Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 1
Deemed domicile: review of protection of overseas trusts
‘(1) Within fifteen months of the passing of this Act, the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs shall complete a review about the operation of the provisions for the protection of overseas trusts in relation to deemed domicile.
(2) The review shall in particular consider—
(a) the effects of those provisions on the Exchequer,
(b) the behavioural effects of those provisions, and
(c) the effects on the matters specified in paragraphs (a) and (b) if those provisions were repealed.
(3) For the purposes of this section, “the provisions for the protection of overseas trusts” means the provisions inserted 18 to 38 and 40 of Schedule 8 to this Act.
(4) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall lay a report of the review under this section before the House of Commons within three months of its completion.’—(Peter Dowd.)
This new clause requires a review to be undertaken of the effects of the provisions for protecting overseas trusts from the new provisions in relation to deemed domicile.
Brought up, and read the First time.
Proceedings on this Bill started in March, but we are now drawing to a close. The Bill’s progress was interrupted by the general election. Not much happened to it in the post-election period, but it was brought back in September, and now we are moving, to use the Minister’s phrase, towards the denouement of the debate.
To solve a problem, it is first important to recognise that there is a problem. I think that that sums up the debate surrounding the Government’s deemed domicile measures—the Government cannot see that there is a problem. Non-dom status is a hangover from the days of the British Empire. Non-dom tax status was introduced in 1799 to allow British colonialists with foreign property to shelter it from wartime taxes. These days, non-doms are individuals who live in the UK but claim to have a permanent home in another country. There is no statutory definition of a non-dom; the status depends on circumstantial evidence.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs says that 121,000 individuals claimed non-domiciled taxpayer status via their self-assessment returns in 2014-15. Non-domiciled UK-resident taxpayers accounted for about 85,000 of those individuals, and the remaining 35,000 or so were non-UK residents. Famous examples of non-doms include the directors of Lloyds, HSBC and RBS, the billionaire Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, the steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, the media baron Viscount Rothermere, and numerous footballers.
Non-doms are allowed to avoid tax on overseas investment income if that does not exceed £2,000 a year. All non-doms are required to pay income tax on their UK earnings, but they can avoid income tax and capital gains tax on assets held elsewhere as long as the amounts are not remitted to the UK. The Treasury’s proposals to reform non-dom status would mean that an individual who had been resident in the UK for 15 of the last 20 years would be considered UK-domiciled for the purposes of income tax, capital gains tax and inheritance tax.
I am listening to the hon. Gentleman’s case with interest. I am curious why, in their first 12 years in power, the last Labour Government did nothing whatsoever about non-domiciled individuals, and then reacted reluctantly only when they were humiliated and forced to take action by the then Conservative Opposition. Why is he not praising the Conservative Government for taking further action on this matter?
If it takes a Labour Government to sort out a problem after more than 200 years, we will sort out the problem.
On paper, this idea seems to be reasonable and sensible —in fact, even progressive—until, metaphorically speaking, someone starts to scratch away at the very thin veneer. In reality, the Government have purposefully and deliberately exempted offshore trusts, thereby undermining their own reforms, even though offshore trusts have been identified by the OECD, the European Parliament and the International Monetary Fund as among the main vehicles for tax avoidance across the globe.
The Panama papers and now the Bermuda leak have brought offshore trusts to the forefront of debate on international tax avoidance. The Panama papers provided us with an abundance of evidence showing that offshore trusts have been used for tax avoidance over the years. Many well-known people have set up offshore trusts to ensure that paying inheritance tax, for example, is a mug’s game. It is not unknown that high-level politicians and business leaders are embroiled in the Panama papers scandal. The Government of one European country were brought down when it emerged that their then Prime Minister’s family had hidden millions offshore.
The use of offshore trusts is not restricted only to inheritance tax; it is also relevant to income tax, as was shown by a recent case involving one of the Scottish football teams. We have also seen in Spain the rising problem of tax avoidance relating to football image rights, with a number of high-profile players convicted for shifting profits from image rights offshore, as has been raised by Opposition Front Benchers and the hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke).
There are also reports of the banks in the City of London using offshore trusts. In 2011, for example, following advice from Deloitte, Deutsche Bank set up trusts to enable bankers to dodge income tax on their bonuses. HMRC successfully managed to defeat that scheme, but others are still in use today. The truth is that HMRC, the staffing levels of which have reduced by 17% since 2010, is woefully understaffed and under-resourced to tackle such schemes. HMRC insiders believe that as much as £1 billion a year is lost to wealthy individuals hiding money in offshore trusts.
The House should be clear that offshore trusts continue to operate outside the law and with impunity. They remain one of the last bastions for international tax dodgers. The value of the assets hidden in these trusts remains unknown, and they continue to operate under a veil of secrecy. None the less, a conservative estimate made by the economist Gabriel Zucman suggests that at least 8% of the world’s wealth is illegally unreported, although other estimates actually put the figure higher. In short, it is impossible to know how much money the UK Treasury is forgoing in tax, as this Government continue to stonewall any attempt by the Opposition to introduce a public register for offshore trusts.
The problem is that that has been a persistent argument for years, but there does not actually appear to be any evidence to back up such an assertion.
I understand that HMRC is responding to EU directives on money laundering and has started the process of registering new trusts and that those already operating must provide additional information by 31 January 2018. However, HMRC has also confirmed that it will not penalise anyone as long as they register before 5 December 2017. The rules state that all trusts with UK tax liabilities must be registered, but the process is conveniently silent about trusts registered in Crown dependencies and overseas territories. The information provided to HMRC will not be made publicly available.
The Minister and Government Members have made much of the claim that the Conservative party has been clamping down on tax avoidance. In fact, that was considered such a priority in the general election that the Prime Minister—at her most imperious, at that stage—gave the subject a grand total of eight lines in the Conservative party manifesto. However, after seven years in power, the Government’s record is still there to see. The measures in the Bill are another example of how the Government wish to be seen to be doing something, but in fact their proposals are artificial and will amount to little while the exemption for offshore trusts remains intact.
On bearing down on tax avoidance, evasion and non-compliance, does the hon. Gentleman recognise that we have brought in £160 billion since 2010 by clamping down on avoidance? It was announced just last week that the tax gap—the difference between what we should be bringing in and what we are bringing in—is now at just 6%, which is much lower than it was in any year under the previous Labour Government.
I am pleased that the Minister raises that point because we will no doubt have another debate about it in the future. I have an interesting assertion that I shall make when we debate the tax gap, but that is for another day. I am happy to debate that subject with the Minister in due course.
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that a tax gap that is one of the lowest in the world is something that we should celebrate while we are debating a Bill about taxation? We should be thanking the Government for making sure that the taxes we approve are collected.
The hon. Gentleman is being extremely generous in giving way. On this very important question, does he not recognise that the tax gap is currently 6%? In 2005, under the previous Labour Government, it was about 8%. If the tax gap was 8% today, we would be bringing in £11.8 billion less in tax, which is the equivalent of the funding for every single police officer in England and Wales. The tax gap really does matter, so I think that the hon. Gentleman should address the questions that are being put to him.
The tax gap fell in every year between 2005 and 2010. The Minister brings my attention to his record, but I am bringing his attention to Labour’s record. As I have said, if we want to have a debate about the tax gap, we can do that. I am more than happy to do so, as are my colleagues, but as I have said many times, this is also about trying to look forward. We can all talk about our record—how good or bad it might have been—but let us move on and try to deal with the issues we are facing, not those we used to face.
I am sorry, Mr Speaker.
The hon. Gentleman might not want to talk about the tax gap, but will he at the very least acknowledge that an extra £1 billion has been collected under this Government compared with under Labour? Surely he wants to take this opportunity to welcome that.
As much as I would like to debate the tax gap with the hon. Lady, I think that shows an ignorance of the issues involved in the nature of the tax gap. As far as I am concerned, I am quite happy—more than happy—to debate this issue in due course, but I am simply making the point that we must move on.
I want to make a little progress, but I will come back to the hon. and learned Lady in a few moments.
In the past month alone, the Government have faced a barrage of criticism from the European Union for their poor record on tackling tax avoidance. The European Parliament’s report on money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion has accused the Government of directly obstructing the fight against tax avoidance, while the European Commission has opened an investigation into the Government’s changes to controlled foreign company rules, which made it easier for multinational companies to shift their taxable income offshore and reduced last year’s tax take by £805 million. That goes to the heart of the point I am making about the tax gap and some of its intricacies.
The hon. Gentleman is being very generous with his time. He has made it clear that he wants to talk about the issue before us rather than others. Labour Members say in new clause 1 that they want a review after 15 months. Despite speaking for more than 10 minutes, he has not addressed that. Has Labour assessed how much a review would cost and whether it would divert resources from the Treasury?
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for that intervention. Government Members have taken up about seven minutes of the time I have been on my feet—[Interruption.] Six and a half minutes, the Minister says.
I am quite happy to debate these issues, but that is the point of a review. Why not have a review? It is a perfectly reasonable and legitimate proposal, given the nature of what we are considering. If there is nothing to hide, and if the Government are quite happy to be open and transparent and to tell everybody how wonderfully they are doing, let us have a review. No doubt the hon. and learned Lady will support the new clause in due course.
If we had a review and identified areas of non-compliance, I suspect we would bring in far more money than that review would cost. That is why we have reviews. Again, I am sure that the hon. and learned Lady will support the new clause.
The Government’s opposition to any action to crack down on offshore trusts is not new. In 2013, while G8 leaders attempted to push forward new measures to deal with tax evasion, the previous Prime Minister was busy undermining them by writing personal letters to the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, begging him to stop the inclusion of offshore trusts. By contrast, the last Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, to his credit, spent his last year in office attempting to get world leaders to agree to strict measures on offshore tax havens. That is all the more reason for a review, so let us have that review. I am speaking directly to our proposal. As I have said, if there is nothing to be fearful of, let us have the review.
Our opposition to the exemption of offshore trusts from these measures is well noted. We have been calling for the exemption’s removal since March. I called for its removal in the debate on the Ways and Means resolutions for this Bill, on Second Reading and in the Public Bill Committee, as the Minister knows, and I now call for its removal once again. I am happy to give the Minister an opportunity to reconsider, because the British public are no fools. They are more educated than ever about what an offshore trust is and what it is used for.
The hon. Gentleman is being exceptionally generous in letting us intervene so many times. To bottom out one point that came up in Committee, even though he may feel that our proposals are imperfect, does he accept that we have made more progress than any previous Government and that we are going further than before in raising fair taxes from non-doms?
I recognise any progress that anybody makes. If the Government have brought about progress, that is fine—I think it is wonderful—but I think there should be more progress. Under the stewardship of the Minister, I am convinced that we will have even more progress on this matter.
While the Minister might be able to use arcane rules of the House to prevent the Opposition from removing the offshore trusts exemption and introducing a public register, he cannot hide from the fact that his Government have a pretty poor record in this area. The heart of our disagreement with the Government is simple: it is about whether all UK citizens are to be treated equally in the eyes of the law and for the purposes of taxation. Throughout the passage of the Bill, it has been clear that the Government are actively content to ensure that we have a tax system that favours a wealthy few at the expense of the many.
The Government could act to close this tax avoidance measure. They could act to send a message to those who want to dodge taxes that the UK will not tolerate it. They could send a message to those who do not avoid their taxes that the Government are on their side. They could even send a message of support to hard-pressed public services by taking up the suggestion of the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and hypothecating any taxes raised by clamping down on the dodgers.
The hon. Gentleman has been very generous in giving way. I am a little concerned about the messages he wants to send out, but one message that we most definitely should send out is that the Government proposals will bring in an additional £1.6 billion over five years. That is money that will support all our public services for everyone.
That is a starter and I am sure that much more could be brought in. Again, I am sure that in an effort to get that figure up, the hon. Lady will support the new clause. I am really pleased that she agrees with us on that matter.
The only message this Government want to send is one of supine support for tax dodgers. The dodgers may want to hear that message, but public sector workers who have not had a pay rise for years do not want to hear it, the people waiting months for an operation do not want to hear it, and the police and firefighters do not want to hear it. I assure Government Members that at the next general election, the public certainly will hear that message loud and clear, because Labour will be there to remind them of a Government in chaos and disarray that is beginning to have a putrefying decay about it.
I think that we all agree in this House that we need to collect substantial revenues to have decent public services and that we all condemn people who break tax law, evade taxes and commit crimes against the tax code. However, tax avoidance—the legal avoidance of taxation—is a more difficult issue.
Many Labour MPs trotted through the Lobbies under a Labour Government to make sure that individual savings accounts had tax advantages, and to support tax breaks for Members of Parliament who choose to save for their retirement through the pension scheme. That is a kind of tax avoidance. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Labour party no longer agrees with that kind of avoidance, which was recommended by previous Labour Governments in the interests of spreading saving? Is he of the view that there are certain kinds of avoidance that are perfectly reasonable, such as those undertaken by Labour MPs and others, and other types of tax avoidance that are also perfectly legal but of which he does not approve?
There is a huge difference between breaking the law and living within the law. However, where Governments of both persuasions and the coalition have put provisions into the tax code that encourage people to save or invest in a certain way to pay less tax, that surely is the will of Parliament and the will of those parties, and we cannot object if people and institutions take advantage of it. The right thing to do—as I think the Labour party is now trying to do in some ways—in respect of rich people who come to our country to undertake part of their affairs but not all of their affairs, is to ensure that we have settled on a law that we think is fair and then to enforce it. Obviously we should take a tough line were any of them to break our law, but we cannot object if they take advantage of measures that have been put into the tax code to encourage certain kinds of investing or saving behaviour, in exactly the same way that most MPs take advantage of the avoidance provisions to save through a pension scheme or an ISA.
The subject of this debate is whether the assets of very rich people—often productive assets that they have saved for, earned and accumulated before they came to the UK—are a suitable object of taxation if they choose to do some things in the UK in respect of which they are clearly subject to our law codes and have to pay our taxes. In the past, Labour Governments as well as Conservative Governments have taken the pragmatic view that there is an advantage in very rich entrepreneurial successful people coming to our country setting up businesses, making investments here and committing part of their capital to our country; that we will tax that fairly in exactly the same way that you or I would be taxed, Mr Speaker, if we were making such investments on a much smaller scale; and that that is fair to us as taxpayers and investors, but that it is not our business to try to tax their assets and income accumulated or earned elsewhere that they have established by other means before, which are presumably being taxed in those other countries and would normally be governed as well by some kind of double taxation arrangement or agreement.
I would therefore just say to Labour Members who think there is a huge crock of gold here, which for some unknown reason successive Labour, coalition and Conservative Governments have been reluctant to pluck, that maybe they did not do it in the past because there is not, and that maybe we are quite close to that point. If we go further and further encroach on the legitimate income and assets of foreigners coming here, which are asset and income not actually in this country, we might get to the point where more of them say, “I’d rather go somewhere else. Plenty of other countries around the world would actually welcome the money, investment and income I wish to spend, which is going to be taxable in that country. If they are prepared to not tax my other income and assets elsewhere, then they will have the benefit of me rather than not.”
The art of taxation is finding the right balance, so the host country gets enough out of it and where there is obviously a fair imposition of tax on anything they do in that country alongside fellow residents of that country, while not deterring so many that we are no longer a great centre for people with money, investment and talent who would otherwise come here.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we do not make these decisions in isolation? We are competing with other countries, which might also like to host very rich individuals and investors. While we in the UK are making the climate more hostile and difficult to raise more money for our public services, the opposite is true in many other countries. In the EU, Malta, Portugal and, most prominently, Italy are moving in the other direction and creating their own non-dom regimes to draw away such individuals from the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend anticipates my next point. We live in a global world. The richer people are, the more footloose they can be, and the better the tax and legal advice they can get. Most of them want to obey the law in the country they choose to live in and the countries they choose to operate in—they usually operate in several countries not just one, which creates genuine definitional problems about where they are truly resident and where is their main centre—and they will compare all the time, on good advice, the different regimes available. It is quite obvious that in the EU there is a lot of jealousy of London and the wider UK’s success in attracting talent and investment from around the world. As my hon. Friend says, regimes are being created in to tempt people away by giving them a better deal in other European countries.
I was about to draw the attention of the House to hugely important debates about to be undertaken in both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the United States of America. New York and other great centres are already very attractive magnets for rich people and large-scale investors. They are suggesting that they might take their top rate of tax down from 39.6% to 35%, simplify their income tax brackets from seven to just three, and take their corporation tax rate down from a very high headline 35% to an effective rather lower rate of 20% or even lower, because they are very serious about becoming tax competitive again. They will be a lure, just as surely as some European countries on the continent are trying to be more of a lure.
The Opposition would be well advised to understand how global the world is, how dynamic it is, and how, to maximise tax revenue, there is a need to set ways of taxing and rates of taxation that enable people to stay and pay.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the greatest threat to tax havens is not the blustering of the Labour party, but countries such as the United States of America reducing their tax rates so much that it does not become in any way effective to be using these kinds of places for any function and business?
That is correct. Tax havens have helped to drive down tax rates in other centres. We only have to look across to Ireland to see how attractive it can be if a mainstream country decides to take its corporation tax rate down to very low levels. Ireland attracts a lot of company-based investment. Each country has to decide where it wishes to be on that spectrum. A high enough rate is required to collect serious money, but a low enough rate is needed to not deter some of the best prospects for coming, staying and paying taxes. In the light of what America is about to do and what some of the smaller European countries are doing, this country is in danger of becoming uncompetitive on taxation.
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point: how important it is that this country does not deter people who bring in money, which in turn funds our public services. Does he agree that if we were to take the course of action urged upon us by the Labour party, we would put at risk the £9 billion of investment into our coffers brought in each year by those who are not domiciled in this country?
That is exactly the kind of sum of money I am talking about. That is a serious sum of money for our economy and it is a nice balance. All of us want to collect serious revenues. We are here because we want good-quality public services, but we also want a productive, growing and exciting economy. We need to have realistic tax rates and tax rules. All the evidence is that every time the coalition and Conservative Governments have had the courage to cut rates, they have raised more revenue. That shows that our rates have been on the high side for optimising the revenue.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Opposition probably fully understand and acknowledge the arguments he is making? The fact is that when they were in power they did not take the steps they are recommending now because they recognised the reality. It is very easy to argue that in opposition; it is a bit different in government.
I entirely agree. I pointed out at the beginning that Labour in office was probably more gentle on this group of people than the Conservative party in office has been. I think Labour came to that judgment for good reasons. Labour Members disagree with their previous Governments, but they will discover that that is the luxury of opposition and that Governments are responsible for sustaining as well as growing the revenues. It is very easy to get rid of revenue by annoying people and companies. It is far more difficult to systematically build up a good tax base by promoting economic growth.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that when the Opposition refer to non-doms as tax dodgers, they are referring not just to the super wealthy, but to many tens of thousands of individuals who come over here who do not have overseas assets on which to draw, who make a contribution to our economy and who pay all their taxes in the normal manner in this country?
Yes, it is very offensive language to call people tax dodgers. If they willingly come to our country, make a big investment in our country, spend a lot of their money in our country and pay all legal dues that this Parliament requires of them, I do not think calling them tax dodgers is wise, friendly or helpful. That is why I began my remarks by asking the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) if he could draw a distinction between a non-dom who came here, paid all legal taxes but was, in his terms, dodging taxes on wealth legally held elsewhere, and a Labour MP who deliberately puts their savings money into an ISA or the pension fund to avoid paying tax. It seems to me that they are very comparable and I do not regard either as tax dodgers.
I do not think my Labour colleagues are tax dodgers because they take advantage of the savings breaks that both Conservative and Labour Governments offer UK taxpayers. Similarly, I do not regard a rich person from abroad who pays all legal dues here with no questions over their tax affairs as a tax dodger. I think they are a welcome contributor to greater growth and prosperity in our country, and we could think of a nicer way to sum them up.
I urge the House to resist the blandishments of the Labour party in opposition, to remember the stance of the Labour party in government, which was rather wiser, and to unite behind what I hope my colleague on the Front Bench will be saying, which is that we welcome talent, industry, enterprise and money into this country and that we want to have a fair basis for taxation that does not deter them from coming.
I start by telling the House of the sad death of my predecessor, Frank Doran, who was the MP for Aberdeen North and other Aberdeen seats during a career of about 30 years in Parliament. Mr Doran was incredibly well respected across the House. People who worked with him will remember him and will have respected his work. He was a principled man. He helped a lot of people who are now my constituents, and they often talk fondly about him. In particular, he worked incredibly hard in the aftermath of the Piper Alpha tragedy; he did a huge amount of work on that. Our thoughts are with his wife Joan, his family, and his friends and colleagues from across the House. I pass on the Scottish National party’s condolences to his family.
I do not want to talk at length about offshore trusts. The SNP has consistently been critical of the situation around non-domiciled individuals and offshore trusts and of the complicated nature of the UK tax code. It is regularly said that the tax code used to be a book but now someone would need a van to cart it around. The problem with that is the potential for loopholes. In addition, the more complicated it is, the more difficult it is for people to comply and for Government agencies to ensure compliance. We have raised those issues.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) talked about not conflating tax dodging with non-doms. I am not attempting to do that, but the more complicated the tax code is, the greater the likelihood of loopholes that people can exploit. We have concerns about that; we raised them last year in the context of the Criminal Finances Act 2017 and we will continue to raise our concerns around non-domicileds and offshore trusts more generally.
There are occasional suggestions from Conservative Back Benchers that we move the UK towards being some sort of tax haven, post Brexit. We completely reject that, as do some in the Conservative party.
I was talking about tax havens; I think people have a good understanding of the difference between a tax haven and a country with lower taxes. It is completely reasonable to say, as individuals across the House do, that if we want excellent public services that best serve our population, we need a tax system in which people pay for those excellent public services. I am not in any way trying to dodge that; I think that we should have a tax system that ensures that we have excellent public services.
As for the opportunity with Brexit, Scotland will be £30 billion worse off as a result of it. My city will be the worst off place in the UK outside the City of London—that is according to work done by London School of Economics and Political Science on the cost of Brexit; it is not a biased point of view. I do not see positive outcomes for the UK from Brexit. On the tax code, I want to make it clear that we reject moving towards a tax haven Britain and anything that could increase the number of loopholes. We are pleased about the Government’s anti-avoidance changes; we would like them to go further, but that will always be the case, and we will always say that to the Government. We are pleased that they are making positive moves, and pleased with some of their anti-avoidance measures. I agreed with almost everything that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd), said about non-domiciled people and offshore trusts. We will support the Labour party if it pushes new clause 1 to a vote.
As I am sure you agree, Mr Speaker, we all love a familiar tune that we can hum or whistle along to, the bars and notes of which come effortlessly to mind, so I imagine that a warm feeling of familiarity washed over all Members when they heard the tune being played by the Labour Front Bencher, the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd). It was the familiar one about the Conservatives not taking tax seriously, being on the side of tax dodgers and so on. We have heard it so many times.
It is nice to see the hon. Gentleman using this gargantuan Finance Bill as a stage from which to play that tune. It brought to mind that wonderful 1970s Morecambe and Wise sketch with André Previn; I do not know whether you are familiar with it, Mr Speaker. Eric Morecambe is at the piano; discordant notes are flooding from it, and André Previn says, “Stop, stop! You’re playing all the wrong notes.” Eric Morecambe replies, “No, sweetheart; I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.” That was an awful accent; I apologise. The hon. Gentleman was not playing the right notes, and definitely not in the right order. Some of the claims made by Labour Front Benchers are built on sand. Far from being on the side of tax dodgers and tax avoiders, this party in government has put measures in place that have generated an additional £160 billion of tax revenue since 2010, and the Bill will, if enacted, bring in additional billions of pounds to the Treasury, so the hon. Gentleman was singing the wrong notes.
Yes, moves to close the tax gap were initiated by a Labour Government—it would be churlish not to concede that—but far from preventing or rowing back on the closing of the tax gap, this Government have continued the pressure to make sure that the gap between the taxes that should be collected and the taxes that are collected continues to decrease. As a Conservative, I am proud of this Conservative Government’s role in ensuring that the people who should pay taxes do, and pay at the appropriate level.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) was absolutely spot on when he said that it is corrosive when we start blurring the definitions of tax avoidance and tax evasion. When we talk about people who act in a financially pragmatic way, completely within the law, in the same way that we talk about conmen and criminals, it sends a massively corrosive message, at a time when the world is getting smaller, in terms of where people can base themselves and their business.
While it is perhaps fun for Opposition Members to vilify people who transact their business internationally and can choose where in the world to rest their head at night and to make them sound like—to be topical—a Halloween villain, that is counterproductive. Although each individual utterance will make little difference, they combine and build to create the background music of intolerance of international business and successful people that will ultimately mean their locating somewhere else. Rather than getting the tax income from them that this country deserves, a different country will generate those tax revenues. A pound—or a euro or dollar—that is taxed somewhere else in the world is a pound that cannot be used by this Government to pay for the public services that we value and the public servants who deserve our thanks and reward.
It may feel superficially pleasant to see an international business, an international business person or a non-domicile flee from these shores. People may say, “If they do not want to be here, let them go.” It is a nice soundbite but ultimately it is massively counterproductive to the job that we should be doing as parliamentarians and that the Government should be doing in office.
I am enjoying the very good speech that my hon. Friend is making. Obviously, I do not want to get into a Brexit debate. Heaven forbid that he and I fall out in some way, or even worse do our impersonations of bygone sketches, which he clearly could not remember because he was not born then, but, on a serious point, does he share my concern that we are already seeing great businesses looking at relocating as the time comes for us to leave the EU, along with individuals who do not feel welcome in our great country?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her intervention. We may not necessarily agree on the Brexit decision or on its impact on international businesses and British businesses that might be international, but it is fair for her to highlight the fact that we should do nothing that gives businesses cause for concern. It would be unfair to suggest that the decision to leave the EU has no impact on business decisions. As someone who campaigned for Brexit, I have an additional duty to prove her wrong. I know that she is of such a generous nature that, if in our dotage we are sharing a glass of wine, looking back at the events in the immediate aftermath of Brexit and I were to be proved right, she would be more than willing to concede that point. However, we have a duty to give businesses as much confidence as possible about being based in the UK. Having a tax regime that supports business and enterprise is an important part of doing that.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bank of England and the Treasury have a duty to talk this country up, not talk it down, and to ensure that, when they talk about investment versus disinvestment, they do not make up terrible numbers, as a continuity of “Project Fear”, when the Bank said that Brexit would mean a loss of jobs, growth and tax revenue, particularly non-domicile tax revenue? We have seen that that is not the case, with the lowest unemployment for 40 years and continued strong growth. It is wrong for the Bank to carry on saying such things, as it has today.
I will be more than happy to invite Treasury officials and Mark Carney to the end of days party that it seems I will be throwing for my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry). We can sit down to discuss such things, sharing my beautifully aged claret—[Interruption.]. Or indeed some wine from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), which produces some fantastic wine. We will discuss the implications for the British economy of fear-mongering.
We are debating a new clause that suggests that, within 15 months of passing the Bill, there should be another review. Fifteen months would be February 2019, a month before Brexit. Financial services companies are already having to rethink their operations to cope with Brexit. Does my hon. Friend agree that the new clause is a distraction that the sector does not need and that the sector contributes more than £70 billion in tax to the UK economy, which we want to keep?
My hon. Friend is spot on. I cannot help but think that new clause 1 is more to do with Labour Members feeling that they need to table revised clauses because they do not know what to say. A call for a review of this kind invariably occurs when people are not sure what to say.
Mr Speaker, you will be disheartened to hear that I am about to conclude my comments. I strongly urge Members on both sides of the House to reject the new clause. We should do everything we can to send a positive message to businesses currently in the UK, to businesses that may think about coming to the UK and to business people who are deciding where they will domicile and to pay tax. We need to let them know that the UK is open, ready to do business and welcomes business people, as long as they pay their fair share in tax and help to support the public services that we value.
I am. The hon. Gentleman made some interesting remarks, but I am going to pick him up on one phrase, which we should think about and bear in mind as we look not only at the implications of new clause 1 but at the Bill as a whole. He said that the British public are no fools. As I listened to him expound on that, I thought to myself, “The British public in the public gallery and the many millions undoubtedly watching the debate at this moment are no fools and will realise that this Conservative Government, since 2010, have brought in more than £160 billion-worth of anti-avoidance and tax evasion measures.” The British public are no fools. They will realise that the Conservative Government, since 2010. have reduced the tax gap—the gap between what should be collected in tax and what actually is collected—to 6.5%, the lowest that has been recorded. The British public are no fools and will see that this Government, a Conservative Government, will abolish permanent non-dom status for the first time. Those are the practical achievements that the Bill helps to build on.
On the precise nature of new clause 1, I can do no better than agree with my dear and honourable Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), who suggested entirely accurately that the timing of such a review may cause disruption. It may be a significant disincentive and difficult from a business perspective because of the Brexit negotiations and the situation at that time. It is also important for us, whatever party we represent, to recognise that this Government are making the case for a sustainable fiscal policy that makes sense in the modern world.
We have heard from many Members on both sides of the House about the international context in which we operate. We are in a smaller world; we all know the impact that technology and ease of travel are having on every aspect of life. Bearing that international context in mind, things are more competitive. We cannot rest on our laurels.
On that point, would my hon. Friend care to reflect on the issue of footballers? The Labour Front-Bench team was saying that footballers often got away with things under this heading, whereas I thought many people in Britain like the idea that very talented footballers could come to our country for a limited period of time under sensible arrangements for their tax affairs. Does my hon. Friend think that is reasonable?
Not only do I agree with my right hon. Friend about footballers, but I think that most people—among the millions watching this debate, as I have said—will recognise, because they see and enjoy the top-quality premier league football in this country, the impact that top foreign players make. It is not just footballers but music stars, artists, creatives, writers, financiers, businesspeople, entrepreneurs—all of them can be such an asset to this country. Footballers are a very visible example, but we should not forget the more hidden, less public face of that. Britain is good at attracting such people, and we should continue to be good at it, and be proud of that fact in this House.
On the Bill, the Government are making the case for a sustainable fiscal policy, and we must bear in mind the case for the simplification of taxes. The hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) always makes good speeches, and made the point that simplifying taxes is a good aim that we should always think about. The Minister, the Government and everybody in this House should always be thinking of ways in which we can make things simpler. We should also always be thinking about ways in which we can make things fairer, and ensure there is a genuinely level playing field for all businesses that seek to work in this country. That is not only fair from an ethical perspective, but having a level playing field is an integral part of what makes Britain a good place to do business. We should focus on both simplifying our tax code and on making it fairer.
Yes, I did have the huge pleasure of serving on the Finance Bill Committee and it was fascinating. The Finance Bill is undoubtedly a whopper; it is huge. There is a good case—I am sure the Minister will come to this in his remarks—for saying that we need to think more actively about ways to make measures shorter and more easily digestible for hon. Members. I say that without detracting from the substance of what the Government are doing, which I completely support.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Being in government is a complicated matter, and Rome was not built in a day. This Bill can continue the work that Treasury Ministers have already begun on how we address the difficulty involved in making things fairer and simpler, while also making sure that we have the right incentives for businesses to come to our country, and grappling with that in the context of trying to make sure that the tax code is simpler.
I hugely respect my hon. Friend. It is worth mentioning for the benefit of those who do not know it that he was a top tax lawyer, so he knows the value that complexity brings to tax lawyers in the City of London. On his point about the EU, I am no expert on these matters and defer to the Minister and other Members, but my view is that we must be more realistic and accept that a lot of things are of our own making; and with the advent of our leaving the EU we have the opportunity to make ourselves even better as a place to do business. I am sure that my hon. Friend and the Minister would support that.
The problem with the comments of the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) is that she wanted both a simpler tax code and to close loopholes. As I understand it, a great deal of its complexity and length has come from adding detailed ways of trying to close the loopholes, so there is a conflict there. Genuinely simpler tax codes have fewer taxes, which would be a great start, as would having lower rates with a common tax base. At present, however, we have too much complication, partly because of trying to close loopholes.
I accept that point. Members present appear to be reaching consensus that the Government should always be thinking of how to balance the need for fairness and simplicity with closing loopholes so that people do not take advantage of the fair laws in this country.
Many Members have discussed in the speeches made so far—I told you, Mr Speaker, that I was listening—the importance of businesses bringing in money to fund our public services. We all recognise that that is important; indeed, it is the reason why many, if not all, of us became Members of Parliament. However, it is also worth making the point that having a thriving economy in which individuals, on their own merit and through their own effort and time, can make the most of themselves is in and of itself a good thing. We should not always revert to thinking about business as something simply to be milked for the Exchequer; the Exchequer, the Government and Parliament should set, and are setting, a clear, simple, as-low-as-possible framework in which individuals and corporations can thrive. That is the sort of fiscal and economic policy that I support.
I thank my hon. Friend for the work he has done on the detail of this Bill. Does he agree that clauses 29 to 32 remove the loophole of permanent non-dom status, but clause 8 means that the UK can continue to benefit from the approximately £9 billion a year from overseas investments, yet if we accept the Labour amendment we put that £9 billion at risk?
My hon. Friend is expert in these matters and knows about them in immense detail, having served in the European Parliament. When both serving on the Finance Bill Committee and during this debate, I have been struck by the keenness of this Government to be fair at the same time as promoting competitiveness. Fairness and competitiveness together are what make Britain the best place in the world to do business.
It is an honour and a privilege to be speaking during the Report stage of the Finance Bill. You will know, Mr Speaker, although some Opposition Members might have forgotten, that I am the MP for Brentwood and Ongar. Today is a great day in the history of Brentwood, because “Woman’s Hour” has announced that it is the best place in the UK for women to live and work. That is something for us all to celebrate. Underpinning that achievement is the fact that Brentwood is a fantastic place to work and do business, and our sense of business acumen is itself underpinned by hard-headed pragmatism. When I bring my constituents complex pieces of legislation, including Finance Bills, they always ask me two things. They ask me whether the legislation is fair, and if they are going to get a good deal out of it. The measures that we are discussing are indeed fair, and I believe that taxpayers in my constituency will get a good deal from them.
As a number of my hon. Friends have mentioned, people who have offshore trusts are not breaking the law. Indeed, it is wholly unfair to suggest that they are. We should recognise the fact that they are reputable business people who are bringing wealth to our country in a totally legitimate way. In Committee, the Minister pointed out that many people had put their affairs in order by setting up overseas trusts before they moved to the UK and it would be wrong for us to go after money that had been secured in that fashion.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, although I would be intrigued to find out, perhaps after the debate, why Brentwood—I nearly said “of all places”, but I am sure that it is a wonderful place—was judged to be so favourable for women. But we are getting away from the Finance Bill and the important points that he is making about the economy. Does he agree that it is critical in any tax system that the balance is right? Yes, taxpayers need to pay the right and proper amount, but we know that if we start to be too onerous, people will exploit loopholes, meaning that tax revenues will begin to drop. Does he agree that it is under this Conservative Government that we have begun to get that balance absolutely right? People do not resent paying their taxes and revenues are rising because we have a good and fair system.
I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend. She can rest assured that she is always welcome in Brentwood. There will always be a place next to me in the teashop where we can sit down to discuss exactly why Brentwood is such a wonderful place for women to work, raise their families and be part of the community.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct that we have to get the balance right if we are to maximise the tax take for the Treasury, and it is only through that tax take that we will be able to fund our world-class public services. An attempt to do anything more would undoubtedly mean that less would be available for our police services, health service and education system. Our constituents—our citizens—would then all suffer, so it is absolutely essential that we get the balance right. I do not believe that we do that if we actively discourage successful, wealthy business people from bringing their money here so that they can invest in our country. As my right hon. Friend points out, it is by getting the balance right that the Treasury, under the great guidance of my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary and his predecessors, has managed to bring in an extra £160 billion since 2010 and to narrow the tax gap to an historically low level. That is a great achievement.
I would like to put this into perspective so that our constituents can appreciate our achievements on the tax gap. Our tax gap is 6%, but the gap is 34% in Italy. If the European Union wants to tackle any tax gaps, it should look at other European countries. The tax gap in the United States is 19%, so a 6% tax gap here represents a huge achievement by this Government.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing those figures to the House. Our extraordinarily impressive figure illustrates the achievements of successive Conservative Chancellors in their work to improve the situation that they inherited in 2010.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) raised an extremely important point about timing. Do we really want a review to kick in just as the Brexit process is reaching its climax? With all due respect to Opposition Members, I do not think that they have really thought about that.
This has been my first Finance Bill and I have enjoyed everything about it immensely. I have even enjoyed the speeches made by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd). I have enjoyed his panache, his dapper dress sense and his ties, which make me feel slightly underdressed. In Committee, he enlightened us with his knowledge of Plutarch and made reference to the Beatles. I believe that he referred to Plutarch’s discussion of Pyrrhus’s victory over the Romans, which led to Pyrrhus saying, “One more such victory and we are lost.” Were new clause 1 to be agreed to, it would be a pyrrhic victory of great consequence. It would put billions of pounds of Treasury revenue at risk, which would in turn put our public services at risk. That would make my constituents very angry.
I know that the hon. Member for Bootle is fond of the Beatles, as am I. We have already had a comic turn from one Essex MP today. The House might recall that, once upon a time, John Lennon was asked why the Beatles were the greatest band in the world. He said it was because Paul McCartney was the greatest singer-songwriter in the world and because George Harrison was the greatest guitarist in the world. The interviewer said, “What about Ringo? Isn’t he the greatest drummer in the world?” Mr Lennon replied, “He’s not even the greatest drummer in the Beatles.”
I rise because it is dreadful to hear this wrong story being perpetuated in the House of Commons. It is a myth that that conversation ever took place, in my opinion—people can check it now on Google. We have in Birmingham a fine comedian called Jasper Carrott who once told that story as a joke. Such is the way that Google works these days that when someone tells a joke like that, it finds its way on to a website somewhere and a myth is perpetuated. We are hearing that story told again in the House of Commons today. I am concerned that it will be recorded inappropriately, so I hope that my hon. Friend will consider that.
Order. I am sure that when the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart) responds, he will ensure that his words are directly relevant to new clause 1. This is an important issue and I am sure that Members would not want people to think that we were treating it light-heartedly. We should be taking it very seriously.
You are quite right, Madam Deputy Speaker. I assure you that my comment was directly relevant to the Bill, but my peroration was cruelly interrupted by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes). He has now set the record straight but, in the process, destroyed one of the great anecdotes about the Beatles. I was going on to say that new clause 1 is not even the best amendment that the Opposition have put up.
The Minister made it clear in Committee that with
“regard to a review of the legislation, as stated in the tax information and impact note published in December 2016, HMRC will monitor the effects of the provisions through information collected in tax returns. I therefore urge the Opposition not to press new clause 3.” ––[Official Report, Finance Public Bill Committee, 19 October 2017; c. 97.]
A form of review is therefore already under way. This Bill is fair and will get a good deal for all our constituents.
My hon. Friend is making a great speech. Another vital factor that we must consider is the element of trust, which will come up repeatedly as we discuss further amendments. It is important that taxpayers can trust this Government to ensure that we collect the maximum amount of tax and then deploy that tax appropriately to provide excellent public services. My hon. Friend suggests that it is important that the Bill is fair, but it is also important that it is trustworthy and that the people watching this debate on telly at home—millions of them—have faith that the Government are firm, fair and trustworthy.
Clarifying non-dom status is absolutely the right thing to do, but it is also crucial to ensure that our tax regime is fair. We have heard from other Members that non-dom status contributes £9 billion. My constituency—this is also relevant to the constituency of the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman)—has seen a lot of mergers and acquisitions activity, and it is important that this country’s tax regime is clear, simple and straightforward, with people encouraged. The Wood Group and Amec merger will create a FTSE 100 company that will be headquartered in Aberdeen, and Baker Hughes and GE, another huge oil company, has a lot of influence on the UK’s continental shelf. Does my hon. Friend agree that unless we keep this country’s tax regime attractive to inward investment and non-doms, we could lose some of that investment, which would damage my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Aberdeen North?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is crucial, perhaps now more than ever, that this country is entirely open to money, to investment and to good business practice from around the world. It is incumbent on the Government to ensure that they create an environment that will bring jobs and investment into his constituency and mine, and indeed into all parts of our country. I also want to voice my wholehearted support for Government amendment 17—a fine amendment if ever there was one—which sets the Treasury record straight, as ever it should be.
I begin by thanking the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) for his interesting and informative contribution. Alas, I am going to have to disappoint him and say that I will urge the House to reject new clause 1, but I thank him most sincerely for the generosity with which he gave way to the wave upon wave of Government Members who wanted to challenge him—it was a veritable intervention-fest. My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) mentioned the “The Morecambe & Wise Show” but in the hon. Gentleman’s case, I was reminded more of the 1980s show “Game for a Laugh”—[Interruption.] Perhaps that was unkind, but we had some fun along the way.
Before replying to the hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks, I will speak briefly about some of the fine contributions made by Members on both side of the House, who took the matter in hand with due seriousness, as you exhorted us to do, Madam Deputy Speaker. The arguments were put extremely powerfully by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), who talked about the importance of recognising that many of the tax activities of individuals in this country are not driven by evasion or a desire to cheat the system or bend the rules, but by sensible tax planning and using the rules precisely as they were designed to be used. He also rightly pointed out the importance of not driving away the individuals who bring great wealth and business investment to our country—we heard about the record £9 billion a year from non-domiciled individuals. The hon. Member for Bootle will recall our lengthy debates about business investment relief.
We must not drive away the additional moneys that will come to our country to fund our doctors, nurses, paramedics, the Army, police and all the other wonderful public services that we expect to be supported. An extra £1.6 billion will come as a consequence of the changes proposed in the Bill. My right hon. Friend also spoke well about the importance of our tax system being competitive, and we briefly touched on an important point that was raised by many other Members: how do we term these individuals?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that an important point to make about non-doms is that the idea that they are all multimillionaires, if not billionaires, is an absolute fallacy? Many non-doms quite properly have that status, but the idea that they are fat cats or rich people with oodles of money who are up to dodgy dealings is an absolute myth. Many of them are actually of modest means, but invariably those of more substantial means are great entrepreneurs and we need them in our country arguably more than ever before.
My right hon. Friend is entirely right and pre-empts the point that I was about to make, which is that it is quite wrong of the Opposition to castigate all non-domiciled individuals in this country and to characterise them as tax dodgers. In fact, the hon. Member for Bootle made the point that there are over 100,000 non-doms in the United Kingdom. The vast majority of them do not have lots of overseas assets or may have no overseas assets; they are not opening up trusts and putting assets in them. They simply come over here, sometimes for a couple of years or so, to work and contribute to our economy.
What the Minister says is true so far as it goes, but I recently met representatives of Man, with which the Minister will be familiar. At £100 billion, Man runs the biggest hedge fund across Europe. They want robust, predictable and understandable regulation to provide certainty for investors, rather than slackness that allows people to creep through holes and exploit loopholes. They want to know where they are. They do not necessarily want a race to the bottom; they just want a reliable system for investing over the long term.
Certainty for the future is precisely what the proposals deliver, and they were extensively consulted on for a couple of years before coming into effect. We are providing exactly the certainty that the hon. Gentleman wants.
As is characteristic of the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), she made some fairly thoughtful comments about the importance of ensuring that the tax code is not overly-complicated. She will be aware of the work that we are doing with the Office of Tax Simplification. I was grateful for her at least partial welcome for some of our anti-avoidance measures which, as many Members rightly pointed out this afternoon, have brought in £160 billion since 2010.
My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree referred to the Bill as “gargantuan.” Having spent what feels like most of my life reading every syllable of it, I think that is a rather polite description of this colossus of a Bill, which has 760-odd pages. He mentioned Morecambe and Wise, and it was a nice touch to characterise the way in which the Opposition play the same old tunes. For the Government, of course, the tune is “Bring Me Sunshine”. We believe in an economy that works for everybody; we believe in bright, sunny uplands; we believe in possibilities, we believe in the future; and, above all, while I am a Treasury Minister, we believe in fair taxation.
My hon. Friend was also right to mention the £160 billion. He particularly stressed the importance of getting away from the corrosive message of always beating up those who are an apparently easy target. We need to talk our country up, not do our country down.
Does the Minister understand the deep concern about the need for transparency, legitimacy and fair returns in the aftermath of the Panama papers? What specific actions have the Government taken, or are they just saying, “Oh, well. It doesn’t matter. We’ll just get on as normal.”?
We are right in the vanguard, as the hon. Gentleman knows. The OECD’s initiative to address base erosion and profit shifting has, among other things, brought in the transfer of information between countries on the very issues he raises. We are no slouch when it comes to addressing such issues.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) also talked about tax avoidance. He confessed to the “novelty” of listening to the hon. Member for Bootle, which is perhaps a little harsh as I often learn a lot from listening to him. My hon. Friend also talked about the importance of attracting the best people to our country from all walks of life, and he is right.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart) made an important point about the setting up of trusts. The trusts of those who become deemed domiciled under the Bill will have to have been in place before that particular moment in time. It is worth stressing that taxation falls due, in the normal manner, only when income in taken out of a trust. My hon. Friend also got us tangled up in a debate about the Beatles and Ringo Starr, but then my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) told us that it was Jasper Carrott all along, and we are grateful to him for that.
I begin my response to the hon. Member for Bootle by reminding the House of the significant changes that the Bill introduces to the way in which non-domiciled people are treated in the United Kingdom for tax purposes. The new rules that the Government are introducing fundamentally change the way non-doms pay tax in the UK by ending permanent non-dom status. Under the Bill, non-doms who have been resident in the UK for 15 of the last 20 years will no longer be treated as non-domiciled by the tax authorities. Instead, they will pay tax in the same way as everyone else, bringing £1.6 billion in much-needed extra revenue for our public services.
To maintain fairness and to keep our tax system competitive, the Bill protects non-residents’ trusts from being wholly introduced to the UK tax system. New clause 1 would impose an obligation on HMRC to review the operation of those protections for non-resident trusts. The review would consider the cost of the protections and the effects they have on taxpayer behaviour, including the effect of removing the protections. Although I understand the intention behind the new clause, I do not think it is necessary to legislate for such a review to take place. HMRC and Her Majesty’s Treasury have hundreds of officials monitoring the tax system and assessing the risks, which is right and proper given the Government’s responsibility to ensure that the tax system delivers value for money for the UK taxpayer.
There is a more fundamental case against the new clause—a case about fairness and unintended consequences. The trusts that the Bill seeks to protect are those created before an individual is deemed to be UK domiciled. Many of these complex trust structures will have been set up long before the individual even thought about moving to the United Kingdom and will not have been set up to comply with the UK’s tax rules. In the circumstances, it is not unreasonable that the new domicile rules are introduced in a way that protects trusts from unintended consequences. It would be unfair to ask a non-dom to pay tax on money they never intended to bring into contact with the British tax system in that way.
Is the Minister saying it is fair for someone to tax plan to leave the country, make a load of money and hide it in various places where tax is not charged before coming back to live in the British environment, where they always wanted to live, and avoid all that tax?
I am not saying that at all. What I am saying is that, where a non-dom has a family trust or some other perfectly legitimate arrangement—they might not have been to this country at all when the trust or arrangement was set up—and is subsequently deemed to be domiciled in this country, it is not unreasonable that the contents of that trust should be protected, with the important caveat that tax is due to the UK tax authorities as soon as income is taken out of the trust.
In terms of tax planning, a merchant banker or whatever in their twenties could plan to leave Britain for a number of years, make a lot of money and protect that money in a tax haven before coming back and receiving all the benefits—sending their kids to public school and all the rest of it—without paying tax in Britain.
I think I have answered that question. It is probably time to move on.
Even with these protections in place, non-doms who become deemed UK domiciled will be protected from tax, as I have said, only on income and gains that remain in the trust. Any moneys withdrawn or benefits provided will lead to a tax charge on the individual. This is a fair system that has been carefully considered and consulted on since it was announced more than two years ago. It is simply unnecessary to introduce legislation to place additional bureaucracy and additional reporting burdens on HMRC, which already scrutinises non-doms’ compliance with the UK tax regime.
Government amendment 17 will remove and correct a minor inaccuracy in schedule 8 to ensure that the policy is delivered as intended. The change applies to part 4 of the schedule, on the cleansing of mixed funds. For the purpose of these rules, a qualifying individual is one who was not born in the United Kingdom and whose domicile of origin is not in the United Kingdom. The amendment simply corrects the Bill by replacing “or” with “and” when defining a qualifying individual. I therefore urge the House to accept the amendment.
These reforms have been carefully drawn up to ensure that we get the right balance between protecting the public finances, remaining internationally competitive and showing how much we value the contribution of non-doms in the UK. I therefore urge the House to reject new clause 1.
I thank the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart) for referring to Plutarch, a Greek citizen who became a Roman citizen—but not a non-dom in that country. Our new clause would require a review to be undertaken on the effects of
“the provisions for the protection of overseas trusts in relation to deemed domicile.”
Like Queen Gertrude in “Hamlet”, Conservative Members protest too much. Why can we not have a review? That is all the new clause asks for: a review. What is wrong with a review?
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
Deemed Domicile: Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax
Amendment made: 17, page 521, line 18, leave out “or” and insert “and”—(Mel Stride.)
Termination Payments Etc: Amounts Chargeable on Employment Income
I beg to move amendment 1, page 14, line 15, leave out “different” and insert “higher”.
This amendment removes the power for the Treasury to reduce the £30,000 threshold in connection with the taxation of termination payments by regulations.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 2, page 14, leave out lines 20 to 23.
This amendment is consequential upon Amendment 1.
Amendment 3, page 14, leave out lines 27 and 28 and insert—
“(2) “Injury” in subsection (1) includes—
(a) psychiatric injury, and
(b) injured feelings.”
This amendment explicitly includes (rather than excludes) injured feelings within the definition of “injury” for the purposes of payments which are excluded from the provisions of Chapter 3 of Part 6 of the Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003 (payments and benefits on termination of employment).
Labour’s amendments on redundancy payments focus, first, on ensuring that there is proper democratic scrutiny of any attempt to reduce the £30,000 threshold for the taxation of termination payments, rather than the power to do so residing merely in regulations and, secondly, on ensuring that injured feelings are included in, rather than removed from, the definition of injury for the purpose of tax-excluded payments.
It is frustrating to be back in the Chamber to debate these issues again, with, again, no indication from the Government of any change in their position. The discussions in the Bill’s previous stages, including in Committee, detailed many ways in which provisions against aggressive tax avoidance and evasion could be tightened. Yet, rather than heed those reasonable suggestions for the removal of loopholes, the Government seem keen to target those made redundant as a potential source of revenue.
The changes in clause 5 are occurring in the context of the Government being determined to rush headlong into reducing corporation tax rates, despite the Institute for Fiscal Studies and others being clear that there is no automatic link between lowering rates and increasing revenue. In fact, I would hazard to suggest that in this case the opposite might be true. The Government’s previous cuts to corporation tax have manifestly not increased business investment.
The changes in the clause are also occurring when, as we have discussed, many loopholes have been retained for non-doms and, furthermore, while new measures for corporations exempt some of those firms that appear to have the most labyrinthine business arrangements, designed for tax purposes—not least some public infrastructure companies.
One might, then, wonder exactly why the Government have decided to stick to their guns and focus tax increases on those who are made redundant, which is effectively the idea that the provisions in the clause promote. We have been told by the Minister repeatedly that there are no immediate plans to reduce the threshold beyond which termination payments are taxable. If that is the case, why create the power to reduce it?
If I may finish, I will be more than happy to take an intervention.
To use an appropriate analogy on Halloween, I would not have bought a pumpkin last weekend if I expected it to sit on the shelf when I brought it home. I would have bought it because I expected to carve it, although not very artistically, for my children. I would not purchase something if I did not think I was going to use it, so why are we spending valuable parliamentary time debating a measure that will never be used?
I simply wish to point out that, as I think the hon. Lady will know, the statutory instrument on changing the £30,000 threshold would have to be passed by the House under the affirmative procedure. It would be an affirmative SI, so it would have to be voted on by the House.
The Minister’s point exemplifies exactly what I anticipated might happen. I was just about to say that the second line of defence from the Government, after proclaiming that they would abstain from using the powers that they are so keen to give themselves, is that, in any case, they would have to bring any change to the House for a vote. Indeed, that is what has occurred just now. We are all aware of the difference between passing a measure through the ordinary legislative procedure, with the amount of scrutiny that that receives, and passing a measure through the type of approach that the Minister has mentioned just now. I regret that this appears to be part of a piece, with a broader trend to exempt new policies from the parliamentary scrutiny that they deserve and that the British public have rightly come to expect from its elected representatives.
Arrangements for those facing redundancy are not, and should not be, a matter of purely technocratic interest. The Government’s failure to raise the tax-free threshold for statutory redundancy pay has meant that it has already lost much of its original real value. That perhaps explains why, when the Government consulted on this issue, there was no conclusive evidence in the consultation either of widespread abuse in this area or of a clamour for a reduction in the threshold.
We are also asking the Government to reconsider their plans on injury to feelings payments as part of termination payments.
Some 85% of payments under the £30,000 threshold are not touched by these changes. Where there is the potential for manipulation of amounts above £30,000, does the hon. Lady not agree that that potential tax avoidance loophole should be closed?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her comments, but I must tell her that the consultation on the measure did not reveal widespread evidence of such manipulation of the rules. It was quite clear in that regard. Indeed, when advice was sought about appropriate measures in this area in the future, a range of different views came from stakeholders and consultees about the way forward. She is right to say that we are not talking about these changes affecting everyone who is made redundant. They apply to a minority of people, but it could be people who have had a very difficult time and who really rely on that redundancy payment for sustaining some kind of quality of life into the future. It is absolutely important that we have a proper debate about, and parliamentary scrutiny of, any changes, which is exactly what our amendments are intended to do.
I was talking about the new plans for injury to feelings payments as part of termination payments. I noted that there were many claims from the Government on this topic on First and Second Readings of the Bill, not least that payments allotted via tribunals would not be affected by these measures, but it is not the case that employment tribunals can decide whether payments are subject to tax or otherwise. That is not within their power. Yes, in some cases, some types of employment tribunal award are “grossed up” to take account of the tax that will be due, but that is very different from deciding whether an award is in and of itself taxable, which seemed to be implied in some of the previous debates on this issue.
In addition, the measures proposed in the Bill would cover the far more common payments made directly by an employer to settle discrimination complaints as part of a redundancy or other dismissal.
If we are talking about payments made for discrimination in the context of a redundancy payment, yes, they are. That is our exact point, which is why we are discussing this matter about injury to feelings. We have had some comments in this House which appear to misunderstand the nature of injury to feelings payments. In some cases, these have been trivialised, almost suggesting that these payments are made because an employees’ nose has been put out of joint rather than something potentially more serious. But “injury to feelings” is a substantive legal category. Where there is genuine evidence of misuse of this category, that should be stamped out, but we have not been provided with such evidence as part of our deliberations on the Bill. Injury to feelings is related directly to discrimination experienced by a person because of their characteristics as an individual—their age, gender, sexual orientation, disability status or ethnicity. This should be taken seriously and it should not be a focus for penalising individuals, as is the case under these proposals. Again, as my hon. Friend suggested, this appears to be part of a piece, with more general measures watering down the protection to individuals suffering from discrimination at work, whether or not they take that discrimination to a tribunal. Clearly, tribunal fees have been struck down because of their discriminatory impact. Now measures are popping up that water down individuals’ protections in other ways.
Just so that our constituents appreciate what is happening in the broader context, does the hon. Lady welcome the announcement that was made in September by the presidents of the employment tribunals of England and Wales that, in each of the three bands for injury to feelings, the maximum award is rising?
Again, I would be very careful to separate out tribunal awards that are made in the context of discrimination at work, which is not what we are talking about, from awards that might relate to redundancy, which is what we are focused on. In relation to discrimination generally, there has been a long-running discussion about what the rates should be for different bands. If one looks at the average award, or, even better, the median award, we are not talking about massive sums of money. It is very important that the public receive that message. For example, someone who has experienced discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is generally receiving much less than £10,000—I regret that I cannot recall the exact figure. It is very important that we do not give the impression that people are somehow holding companies to ransom in this area. Indeed, that is perhaps underlying some of the change that has been forced on the Government through the court decision that we should not have tribunal fees, because these tribunals are being used not vexatiously, but purposely for people to protect their rights at work.
In conclusion, Labour’s message on this Finance Bill is clear. We felt that it offered an opportunity to reboot our economy, to deal with our massive productivity challenges and our cost of living crisis, and to shore up public finances by sealing loopholes for the very best-off people and biggest multinational companies. Instead, we have a series of missed opportunities and measures focused on soft targets, rather than on those who can afford expensive accountants and engage in complex schemes to avoid tax.
The House will be delighted to know that I do not intend to speak for very long. We have discussed this matter a number of times before. It is important to note that this measure is a revenue-raising one; the aim is to make £430 million for the Government. However we paint it, these workers are facing redundancy. They are receiving the pay-out at the same time as losing their jobs, so they are vulnerable by their very nature, and are having to think carefully and reassess how they go forward. This additional money will go to the Government, rather than to these workers who are being made redundant. For that reason, the Scottish National party will support the Labour party’s calls, particularly those regarding termination payments.
I am not sure that that was a redundancy payment that would be counted in this category. I do not know the tax status of the gentleman, or how much tax he would have paid on that or any other payments he received. It does not appear as though the Government are looking to pursue such people. It seems that they are looking to make tax changes.
That was before my time in this House. I am not sure what power Parliament would have had regarding the payments. I obviously do not think that somebody who has demonstrably not behaved very well should get huge sums of money as a result.
The SNP has been clear about our position. We feel that the measure does not offer the protection we would like for workers who are being made redundant. The Government understand that this is our position, and we ask them to make moves on the matter.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak once again in the debate about the taxation of termination payments.
Before entering this place, I was an employment rights lawyer for more than decade, so this issue is very important to me. I have represented employees who had been dismissed and discriminated against day in, day out. Very often, this would involve negotiating termination packages or settlement agreements for them. The Bill seems to make it harder for people to get proper compensation for their ill treatment. Having seen at first hand the devastating effect that dismissal and discrimination can have on someone’s life, I am deeply concerned that the Bill seeks to narrow the scope of termination payments.
An employee can currently receive up to £30,000 in tax-free compensation as part of a settlement package. The figure already excludes from the tax-free amount things that would generally be considered as pay, such as accrued but untaken holiday pay, any unpaid wages or bonuses due, and pay in lieu of notice that is provided for in the contract of employment. However, sums for future loss of earnings or for injury to feelings are generally not subject to tax, provided they do not exceed £30,000.
Far from this being about tax avoidance, it is about properly compensating people who have been wrongly treated rather than treating them as a means to top up the coffers. Despite this, the Government wants to give themselves the power to decrease the tax-free amount that can be paid to an employee upon termination. Under the proposals, the threshold could be reduced using secondary legislation, without the full and proper scrutiny of parliament. The Minister says that the Government have no intention to reduce the threshold.
We know that redundancy payments and the way in which they are capped means that they often do not adequately compensate people after they have been dismissed from work. The fact that the Government want to give themselves the power to decrease the threshold prompts a question: why do they want to do it if they do not want to exercise that power? It seems that they would treat those who have suffered wrong treatment in the workplace as a source of revenue rather than as victims worthy of support. This is all the more important when taking into account the fact that the tax-free threshold has not increased since 1988.
The amount should reflect someone’s loss of earnings, their ability to get back on their feet and the injury they have suffered after redundancy, so it is not good enough to tell 15% of these people, “We don’t care about you.”
If the threshold had risen in line with prices, it would be £71,000 today. Surely the Government should be going after the billions hidden in tax havens and the corporations that avoid paying tax, as well as properly resourcing HMRC, rather than going after those who have been treated badly at work. Being dismissed or discriminated against at work can have a catastrophic effect on someone’s life, so the Government should not be attacking those who might be at their most vulnerable.
I will make some progress.
It seems curious that the Government want to make it a priority to enshrine it in statute that compensation for injury to feelings awards connected to the termination of employment should be taxed as earnings. This is yet another example of how the Government, rather than going after the big corporations that are avoiding tax, would penalise those who have been unlawfully discriminated against at work.
When we last debated the Bill in Committee on 11 October, it was suggested by Government Members that injury to feelings was some sort of new concept that Labour was trying to introduce to create a tax loophole. Yet injury to feelings is a well-established head of damage, enshrined in the Equality Act 2010 and in the various pieces of anti-discrimination legislation that preceded it, including the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. Guidance on the level of awards was given in the case of Vento some years ago, and it has just been upgraded. The highest award is £42,000 for the most serious acts of discrimination, which usually involves a course of conduct over many years, and the lowest award is £800—usually for a one-off comment. That is established legal principle.
Under these proposals, however, such awards would be taxed as a matter of routine when the £30,000 threshold is exceeded. Not only does that seem inherently unfair to victims of discrimination, but in practical terms it will lead to all sorts of litigation and drafting issues about whether an award is in connection with the termination or a previous act of discrimination unconnected to the termination. For example, a woman is subjected to sexual harassment at work over a sustained period. She subsequently tells her employer she is pregnant and is dismissed as a result. She pursues a claim for sexual harassment, unfair dismissal and maternity discrimination. She is awarded £30,000 for loss of earnings, which takes her up to the tax-free threshold. She is awarded another £10,000 for injury to feelings. Who determines what part of the award is for the harassment, which is unconnected to the termination of her employment and therefore not taxable, and what part is in relation to the pregnancy-related dismissal and therefore taxable?
Moreover, because personal injury claims will be exempt from tax but injury to feelings will not be, we are likely to see more employment tribunal claims pleading personal injury—for example, psychiatric damage—which will inevitably lead to complex medical evidence and longer hearings. With strains already on the employment tribunal system and on HMRC, that is surely not the route we should be going down. Or is this just the start of a slippery slope, with the Government ultimately wanting to tax all injury to feelings awards and all personal injury awards?
For those reasons, I urge the Government to accept our amendments and to go after the real tax avoiders, not hard-working individuals who have been treated unlawfully at work.
Following our vigorous and constructive debate during the Committee of the whole House last month, I welcome the opportunity to reiterate the importance of the changes we are making to the taxation of termination payments today. In doing so, I thank the hon. Members for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds), for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) and for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) and acknowledge their contributions.
Before I respond to some of the detailed points raised, let me begin by briefly reiterating the objectives of the changes we are making. As I have outlined previously, the current rules on the taxation of termination payments can be unclear and complicated. Unfortunately, this complexity has led to a small minority of individuals and employers—particularly those with the most generous pay-offs—seeking to manipulate the rules to avoid paying the tax that is owed. They do so by characterising large pay-offs as termination payments rather than earnings, so that they qualify for the £30,000 tax exemption and an unlimited employee national insurance contributions exemption. As Members on both sides of the House have agreed, this situation is clearly unfair for the vast majority of employees, who are unable to manipulate their payments in this way. The purpose of this clause is to tighten and clarify the tax treatment of termination payments to make the rules fairer and prevent manipulation.
As we have heard, amendments 1 and 2 would remove the power to reduce the £30,000 tax exemption threshold for termination payments by regulations. As I have said several times in this House, the Government have no intention of reducing this tax-free amount, despite the best efforts of Labour Members to suggest otherwise. Let me assure the House again: any reduction in the threshold would be subject to a statutory instrument and the affirmative procedure, so the House would have to approve any such proposal. The House rejected this amendment in Committee of the whole House, and I urge it to do so again.
Amendment 3 would exempt from taxation all termination payments for injured feelings. As the House heard earlier this month, this amendment would present further opportunities for those seeking to manipulate the system by opening a large loophole for payments to be routinely reclassified on account of an injury to feelings, without any medical evidence, simply to pay no tax. This is hard to prove or disprove, and it would be very difficult for HMRC to regulate. In any case, payments for injured feelings will of course continue to qualify for the £30,000 tax exemption like any other normal termination payment. The House wisely rejected this amendment earlier this month, and I urge it to do so again.
The changes being made by clause 5 are a fair and proportionate way to close a loophole in the rules that has unfortunately been open to manipulation in the past. The Government have repeatedly shown that many of the concerns raised by Labour Members are unfounded —and, frankly, give the appearance, at least, of misconstruing an important tax avoidance measure as some kind of attack on those losing their jobs. This politicking is unworthy of the Opposition. I have heard no new arguments or evidence today to convince me of the need to reconsider this clause. I therefore urge the House to reject the amendment.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Digital reporting and record-keeping for income tax etc
I beg to move amendment 7, page 78, line 19, after “day”, insert
“no earlier than 1 January 2022”.
This amendment provides that the provisions for digital reporting in Clause 60 may not be brought into force before 2022.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 8, page 78, line 20, at end insert—
“(4A) No regulations may be made under subsection (4) until 90 days after the Chancellor of the Exchequer has laid a report before the House of Commons which sets out—
(a) the steps which HMRC has undertaken to establish that suitable software is available;
(b) the results of the testing by HMRC and others of that software, and
(c) the reasons why mandatory use of the software is in the interest of HMRC and taxpayers.”
This amendment would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to report on software suitability and testing before giving effect to the provisions of Clause 60.
Amendment 9, in clause 61, page 78, line 34, after “day” insert
“no earlier than 1 January 2022”.
This amendment provides that the provisions for digital reporting in Schedule 14 and Clause 61 may not be brought into force before 2022.
Amendment 10, in clause 62, page 79, line 12, at end insert—
“(5A) No regulations may be made under sub-paragraph (5) on a day prior to 1 January 2022.”
This amendment provides that the provisions for digital reporting in Clause 62 may not be brought into force before 2022.
Amendment 11, page 79, line 19, at end insert—
“(6A) Regulations under sub-paragraph (5) may not impose mandatory requirements for businesses to generate quarterly updates.”
This amendment provides that any system for quarterly updates to be generated must not be mandatory.
New clause 2—Taxation of chargeable gains: review of treatment of commercial property held by persons with foreign domicile—
“(1) The Taxation of Chargeable Gains Act 1992 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 14 (non-resident groups of companies), insert—
“Review of treatment of commercial property held by persons with foreign domicile
(1) Within three months of the passing of the Finance (No. 2) Act 2017, the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs shall complete a review about the taxation of chargeable gains held by persons with foreign domicile.
(2) The review shall consider in particular the implications if the treatment of commercial property were to be the same as the treatment of residential property under section 4BB(2).
(3) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall lay a report of the review under this section before the House of Commons within three months of its completion.””
This new clause requires a review to be undertaken of the treatment of capital gains on commercial property disposed of by UK taxpayers with a foreign domicile.
New clause 3—Income provided through third parties: review of effects generally and in relation to sports image rights—
“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall, no later than 21 July 2019, undertake a review of the effects of the changes made in relation to income provided through third parties.
(2) The review under subsection (1) shall consider in particular the effects in relation to sports image rights.
(3) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall lay before the House of Commons a report of the review under this section no later than 15 October 2019.
(4) In this section—
“the changes made in relation to income provided through third parties” means the provisions of sections 34 and 35 of and Schedule 11 to this Act,
“sports image rights” means the rights or purported rights, whether or not protected or capable of protection under any relevant laws, associated with the identity or activities of a person where those rights or purported rights are associated with their participation or former participation in a sport.”
This new clause requires the Chancellor of the Exchequer to carry out and publish a review of the effects of provisions for disguised remuneration in relation to income provided through third parties, including particularly the effects in relation to sports image rights.
New clause 4—Impact analyses of provisions of this Act—
“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact of the provisions of this Act in accordance with this section and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.
(2) A review under this section must consider—
(a) the impact of those provisions on households at different levels of income,
(b) the impact of those provisions on people with protected characteristics (within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010), and
(c) the impact of those provisions on different parts of the United Kingdom and different regions of England.
(3) In this section—
“parts of the United Kingdom” means—
(c) Wales, and
(d) Northern Ireland;
“regions of England” has the same meaning as that used by the Office for National Statistics.”
This new clause requires the Chancellor of the Exchequer to carry out and publish a review of the effects of the provisions of the Bill on households with different levels of income, people with protected characteristics and on a regional basis.
New clause 5—Review of the conditions of registration for third country goods fulfilment businesses and traders using their services—
“(1) Within six months of the passing of this Act, the Chancellor of the Exchequer shall complete a review of the conditions of registration for third country goods fulfilment businesses and the traders using their services.
(2) The review shall consider in particular—
(a) an automatic joint and several liability for VAT between registered fulfilment businesses and the traders using their services, and
(b) a requirement that registered fulfilment businesses should charge VAT to customers on behalf of traders using their services.
(3) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall lay a report of the review under this section before the House of Commons within one month of its completion.”
This new clause requires a review to be undertaken of the conditions of registration for third country goods fulfilment businesses and the traders using their services.
Government amendments 12 to 16.
I rise to speak to amendments 7 to 11, which relate to the Government’s Making Tax Digital proposals. I do not think I will be able to get in any references to ancient Rome or Greece, unlike my colleagues, because of the subject matter.
Given that the debate on this package of measures has been ongoing since the first version of the Finance Bill, Labour’s many concerns have been well rehearsed at every stage of the discussions. However, they are not our concerns alone. They echo the worries of businesses, service providers and the trade associations that represent them, including the Institute of Chartered Accountants, the Chartered Institute of Taxation and the Federation of Small Businesses.
We recognise that Labour’s repetition of and emphasis on the potential damage that the measures might have had has led to a number of concessions over the summer. The Government had to concede that the timeline for implementation was not feasible and undertook a U-turn to delay the implementation of digital reporting for VAT until 2019. The Federation of Small Businesses described that change to the timetable as a “lifeline for small firms”. Labour has also ensured that there is an exemption for small businesses operating under the VAT threshold of £85,000.
However, we do not believe that those changes are enough. That is why Labour proposes this package of amendments today. To be clear, we support the principle of digitising tax returns, as we would any measure that purported to simplify the compliance and reporting burden on UK businesses and that might help HMRC efficiently and accurately to collect the amount of tax it is owed. That does not change the fact that the Government have made a chaotic mess of implementing Making Tax Digital. This significant and important change to the system needs to be approached with due care and attention.
If the Government’s measures are carried out as currently proposed, there is a risk that added costs and unintended consequences will be passed on to small and medium-sized businesses, as tax experts and accountants have warned. The Government’s target implementation date is unrealistic and unworkable. What is more, it will coincide with the uncertainty created by Britain’s departure from the EU, which is already creating a significantly tougher operating climate for small businesses. I note the comments made by Conservative Members during the debate on the first group of amendments about not wanting a review of any measure in the Finance Bill to coincide with Brexit. I am sure that they will apply that view consistently to this package of measures.
To be frank, nobody is sure whether HMRC or business can be ready for the implementation date. At present, the plans are rushed and poorly thought through. This is why our amendment proposes that the date is put back to 2022 to allow time for consideration and compliance and to avoid a clash with our exit from the European Union.
We need to see robust evidence and proof that the software for Making Tax Digital is effective, not least if the Government want to keep to their 2019 implementation timetable. So far, that has not been forthcoming. We have not heard feedback on the pilot schemes for this software and nor have we heard details of how HMRC proposes to train its staff in time for implementation. Businesses need time to accustom themselves to using the new system, and we cannot see how there is sufficient time to pilot, test and run the software in time for 2019, while allowing for that to occur. We therefore propose in amendment 8 that the Chancellor must report on the suitability of the software before full implementation is rolled out.
The final issue on the Making Tax Digital proposals that we wish to raise today is quarterly reporting. As outlined in Labour’s 2017 election manifesto, we believe small businesses underneath the VAT threshold should be permanently exempted from mandatory quarterly reporting. It presents an unnecessary compliance burden and risks adding costs and administration to small businesses with insufficient evidence of benefit. It is Labour’s belief that the Treasury, having made the mistake of already accounting for the revenue they believe they will raise from these measures, is now ill-advisedly committing to rushing them through so as to avoid creating a further black hole in the public finances, but these are enormous changes that must be implemented with due care and attention. We urge the Government to give them more time.
Too often, the Government have exercised a sloppy approach to policymaking, with disasters such as universal credit a direct result of ignoring the evidence available from pathfinder schemes and the testimony of stakeholders. Britain’s small businesses cannot afford a similar disaster in the implementation of Making Tax Digital. We therefore ask the House to listen to us and to the warnings of independent experts outside this building, and support this pragmatic and sensible package of amendments today.
Government amendments 12 to 16 fix a small technical error that could otherwise result in an outcome that was not intended. They will ensure that landlords who stop renting out a property and move in rather than sell it are not unintentionally disadvantaged when using the cash basis.
I now turn to the Opposition’s amendments. New clause 4 requires the Chancellor to review the impact of the provisions on households at different levels of income, the impact on people with protected characteristics, and regional impacts. The Treasury considers carefully the impacts of its decisions on individuals and groups with protected characteristics in line with both its legal obligations and its strong commitment to promoting fairness. The Government have published distributional analysis of measures contained in the Finance Bill in the “impact on households” document which accompanied spring Budget 2017. The Treasury and HMRC also published tax information and impact notes for individual tax measures that include an assessment of expected equalities impacts. I therefore urge the House to reject new clause 4.
The Bill includes provisions for the introduction of Making Tax Digital programme. The tax gap resulting from errant carelessness currently stands at £9.4 billion. The Government’s plans for Making Tax Digital aim to address the tax gap and provide a more modern digital service that will help businesses to get their tax right. However, as discussed in Committee, it is also important to do this in a way that works for business. My announcement of 13 July allows a small business more time through a phased implementation of Making Tax Digital. This change has been widely welcomed and stakeholders are now working hard to prepare for MTD.
Opposition Members have, as we have heard, proposed amendments that would make three changes to the implementation of Making Tax Digital. First, they propose that the programme should be delayed until 2022 at the earliest. As I have said, I have already made changes to the timetable of Making Tax Digital, so that businesses have longer to prepare. Secondly, Opposition Members are seeking to prevent mandatory quarterly updates for VAT under MTD. Most businesses paying VAT already report quarterly. Businesses that are mandated to use MTD for VAT will not be required to provide updates to HMRC more frequently than they do currently, or to provide any more information. Finally, the Opposition have pressed for a report on the suitability of software at least 90 days before MTD for income tax is mandated. The Government are already committed to ensuring that a full range of software is available for MTD and that these have been tested thoroughly. I therefore urge the House to reject the amendments tabled on these clauses.
At a Public Accounts Committee sitting last week on the future customs border and the software upgrade for that, the permanent secretary appeared to suggest that Making Tax Digital was the highest priority IT programme for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Would the Minister agree with that, or does he think that we should prioritise making sure that our systems can cope with the many changes that may come about through Brexit?
Of course there are a number of HMRC-led IT programmes; Making Tax Digital is but one of them. A new system for customs, the customs declaration service system, will replace CHIEF—the customs handling of import and export freight system—and that has very high priority. We are on target for full roll-out in January 2019; we will begin the CDS pilot in August next year. I am satisfied that the balance is correct at the moment.
Has the Minister spoken to his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions, who are embarking on a £13 billion IT contract for universal credit, on the lessons to be learned and the impact on people who are trying to use a system that is evidently not fit for purpose?
As that programme relates to DWP, the question would be best directed in that direction, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that, to the extent that the Treasury and HMRC impinge on the programme, it is for us a very high priority.
I turn to new clause 2, which, although not debated, was tabled by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). I would like to deal with it, because I know that from her perspective it was a very important new clause. I understand why she suggests extending the rules on the taxation of capital gains from commercial property disposals by UK taxpayers with a foreign domicile, but I fear that the new clause and the discussion it has prompted have fallen foul of the complexity inherent in this area. I would like to clarify some of the issues.
First, contrary to the new clause, it is residence and not domicile that determines whether the disposal of an asset in the UK is within the charge of capital gains tax. UK residents, including non-doms, will always be liable for CGT on the profits from selling UK land, whether that land is residential or commercial. Also, it does not appear that the change that the hon. Lady proposes would apply to foreign companies owning UK commercial property, as domicile does not apply to companies.
These elements of confusion mean that it is far from clear that the review proposed would work. I remind the hon. Lady that this Government in 2015 started taxing non-residents on their gains from UK real estate—something that previous Governments had ducked. Those changes give a sense of the amount of revenue that an extension of them to the commercial property market would raise. The Office for Budget Responsibility certified that the 2015 changes will raise £40 million this financial year and £70 million in the next. That gives a more realistic sense of the order of magnitude of the amount that this change could raise than the figures suggested in previous debates.
The hon. Lady has also suggested that taxpayers are designating residential property as commercial property to avoid paying the residential charge. Let me be clear: if residential property is being designated as commercial property, that is a matter of tax avoidance or evasion, not of the scope of CGT. HMRC has not seen any evidence of this practice.
The hon. Lady has provoked a good debate on this issue. Although I urge the House to reject new clause 2, which confuses too many of the issues at stake, I recognise that a number of points in this area are worth consideration, and we will certainly continue to look closely at the issue of non-residence and CGT on commercial property.
New clause 3 seeks to commit the Government to carrying out and publishing a review of the tax treatment of income provided through third parties, in particular in relation to sports image rights. Image rights payments have long been taxable. There have been cases where employers have tried to inflate payments for image rights and to reduce salaries accordingly, to deliver a tax saving to both employers and employees. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke), whom I see in his place, for the insights, advice and support that he has given me on this issue.
The courts have ruled that genuine image rights payments to an employee are not taxable as earnings. It is therefore for HMRC to ensure that image rights payments are genuine and taxed in the right way. At spring Budget 2017, this Government committed HMRC to publishing clear guidelines for employers who make image rights payments for the use of an employee’s image, and HMRC has done that. HMRC undertakes extensive compliance activity to ensure that employers play by the rules and image rights payments are taxed in the right way. The new clause is not necessary, so I urge the House to reject it.
New clause 5 asks for a review of the conditions of registration for third country goods fulfilment businesses. The review would also need to consider the case for imposing either joint and several liability or direct liability on third country goods fulfilment businesses for the unpaid VAT of their overseas clients.
The Government are proud of their record in tackling online VAT fraud, a complex international problem. The UK has led the way with a package of measures that Government first announced at Budget 2016. It includes the fulfilment house due diligence scheme provided for in the Bill and powers for HMRC to hold online marketplaces jointly and severally liable for the unpaid VAT of overseas traders.
The Government have already undertaken extensive consultation on the scheme in the past 18 months. I assure hon. Members that we will continue to monitor the impact of the legislation. I therefore urge the House to reject new clause 5.
I commend to the Minister the better solution to this issue: making the online marketplaces themselves liable for the VAT on sales outside the EU. In the Public Accounts Committee, Amazon thought that that was a better solution and it would be happy to implement it. The EU wants to do it. The Government have consulted on split payment. Is it not time to push ahead to ensure that we get all the revenue we deserve and need?
My hon. Friend rightly raises one of the approaches that could be deployed to ensure that VAT is paid: the split payment system, whereby the platform itself is responsible for collecting the VAT and passing it on. That is certainly something, along with other measures, that we are considering.
It has been a pleasure debating this group of amendments. I hope that hon. Members are satisfied on the points we have discussed and I urge the House to reject the amendments and new clauses tabled by Opposition Members.
I think we are all slightly bamboozled by the order in which this part of the debate has happened. None the less, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak.
We have raised concerns about Making Tax Digital and we will carry on doing so because we have issues with the way in which some of these things are being implemented. I appreciate the fact that in Committee the Minister took the time to answer questions about lack of internet access. I am still not 100% clear about the position for those people who have only intermittent access to the internet. I understand what he was saying about those people being able to make a case to HMRC about why they cannot, through the Making Tax Digital scheme, do quarterly reporting. However, I am still not convinced that the language on that was robust enough to protect any of my constituents who, because of their internet connection, are unable, for example, to reasonably undertake the quarterly reporting that is being asked of them. If he is able to come back on that and clarify the position, I will be grateful. The point he made in Committee was useful, but possibly not strong enough in that regard.
The other issues we have about Making Tax Digital concern those people who are in particularly rural areas and who therefore struggle with lack of access to technology and the internet and with doing the quarterly reporting. There are also people who do not have access to HMRC offices in the way they used to. We have raised all those concerns. I have said that I am pleased that the Government have changed the way and the order in which the implementation is going to happen. The SNP is not against Making Tax Digital and quarterly reporting, but we have concerns and we want to ensure that our constituents and businesses in our constituency are protected.
On that note, we said in our manifesto this year that we would support the phased introduction of Making Tax Digital. I want to be clear that we will not, therefore, support Labour’s amendment 11, which is the tack that we also took in Committee. We would not want to vote against something that is a manifesto commitment.
New clause 2 is on commercial property and non-doms. The statements that I made earlier about the issue of non-doms and about the concerns regarding the complexity of the tax code and possible loopholes in relation to that, apply exactly in this regard. I am pleased that the new clause has been tabled by the Labour party, including the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), I think. I say that quietly in the hope that I have got the constituency right. I am pleased that this has been put forward. Constituents have got in touch with me and several of my colleagues about this. The Scottish National party has previously raised concerns about the taxation of non-domiciles, and we will continue to do so, in particular around some of the loopholes. We will support new clause 2—many of the constituents who wrote to me will be delighted about that—and I am pleased that this matter is on the table and being debated today.
As it is Halloween, I rise to give the Minister a fright, because if he thinks he is going to get away without properly examining new clause 2 and the benefits that it could bring to our country and British business, he is in for a trick-or-treat moment. There are certainly ghosts that haunt our politics—[Interruption.] I am disappointed to see you being so slow, Mr Deputy Speaker—[Interruption.] That is certainly very spooky.
As I said, there are ghosts that haunt our politics, so I start my speech by putting on record my thanks to the former Member for Tatton, George Osborne, for inspiring new clause 2. Indeed, I noted that the Minister referred to his work, too. These were the words of the former Member for Tatton in 2015 when the then Government brought in the first rules around tax and non-doms:
“It is not fair that non-doms with residential property here in the UK can put it in an offshore company and avoid inheritance tax.”—[Official Report, 8 July 2015; Vol. 598, c. 325.]
By using those words, the former Chancellor raised two important issues: first, the fairness of our taxation system and, secondly, how it extends to foreign ownership. He was absolutely right to introduce those measures, but what we are talking about today is the necessary and inevitable conclusion of that debate: what we do when people raise issues about fairness and foreign ownership. The new clause answers that call because, frankly, it is not fair that British businesses have to pay corporation tax on their capital gains when they sell commercial properties, but overseas businesses trading in the UK in UK-based property do not.
It is not fair that we are one of the few countries in the world to treat its businesses in this way and let foreign companies off the hook—all those real estate investors who some might feel donate so much else to some in this country, but who do not pay their taxes. As the previous Chancellor argued, people can put property into an offshore company to avoid tax.
If the Minister’s main objection to the new clause is the way in which I have described the domicile of these people, he ought to think again. Certainly, he ought to do as I did today and google the term “tax efficient Jersey UK real estate”, because when he does and he sees the advice being offered to non-resident companies, I suspect he will find it galling. He will find companies including BNP Paribas Real Estate, Ogier, Bedell Cristin and Hawksford boasting about how UK real estate investment trusts based in Jersey but listed on the international stock exchange do not pay the same rates of stamp duty as those resident in the UK, and do not pay capital gains tax. Indeed, the International Stock Exchange itself states:
“we have pragmatic listing requirements for this product”.
That simply means that the businesses involved get to avoid the same charges that our British businesses have to pay. We as British taxpayers should be asking why any company is using such a model—why such companies are given these listings and are able to buy and sell UK property in this way—because it is very hard to see what the justification is, and why we make it so easy to exploit this loophole when there is tax on residential property sales, but not on commercial properties.
The former Chancellor boasted in 2015 that making non-UK-based people pay capital gains tax on their residential property sales would raise £1.5 billion over the course of this Parliament. The purpose of the new clause is to tell us just how much closing this loophole would raise, and just how much these companies are making through such behaviour.
Sadly, because the Minister was so determined to get through his speech so quickly, I did not hear the number he came up with. I certainly find it striking that HMRC does not know how much money is missing, but in the spirit of this cross-party measure, let me offer the House some of my own figures.
The British Property Federation says that there is about £871 billion of commercial real estate in the UK, which represents 10% of our nation’s entire wealth. That is a hugely important market in its own right, but how we buy and sell commercial property also affects our residential property market, as it has an impact on the price of land. For those of us who represent constituencies where house prices are exorbitant, to say the least, tackling the overheating in our property market would be a very noble thing to do. I believe that we would get support for that from both sides of the House.
We know that about 20% of commercial real estate is sold every year, and that it was worth an eye-watering £115 billion in 2015—that is the figure the taxman knows about. We also know that about 30% of commercial property in the UK is held in these offshore trusts and companies. For those who are fans of “Countdown” and want to see how I have done my homework, I have done my sums assuming an 8% increase as the long-term trend rate for commercial property prices. Working on that assumption, if about 20% of that property is sold and the current 19% rate of corporation tax is used, there would be about £11 billion of taxable gains every year. It is therefore not unrealistic to expect that around £6 billion of taxation could be collected.
Spoken like a true former local authority leader who has had to deal with the consequences of Government cuts!
This is about the question of fairness that was put forward by the former Chancellor. None of this is illegal. We might consider it immoral, but it is certainly not illegal, and none of it is captured by UK anti-avoidance rules. The Minister is not being open about companies that might include UK residents who have their properties held offshore. This is unfair to UK businesses. I understand that at present there is concern about economic policies and a dangerous air of radicalism in British politics. Let me reassure Conservative Members who might feel frightened about supporting this measure to close the loophole, and fear that it could be a radical socialist policy—I happen to think that it could be—that this is simply a question of fairness.
This is also something that most other countries do. Canada, Australia and the rest of Europe do it, so the new clause would bring us into line with them. Indeed, the OECD model double tax treaty explicitly preserves the right of countries to tax non-residents on their capital gains from the disposal of local real estate.
The Bill itself brings in anti-avoidance measures relating to inheritance tax and to holding property through non-UK companies. That is why it is difficult, having listened to the Minister in Committee, to understand why this particular proposal has been put into the “too complex” category. In Committee, he voted against a similar provision because he argued that it was just too complex, while admitting that the rules introduced in 2015 were designed to catch individuals holding a title over a dwelling in a trust or a closely held company. He argued against the proposal because he said that it would require what he considered to be a whole tax code. My problem with the Minister’s saying that this is too complicated is that it places him and the British Government in a special category. If most other countries can get their heads around how to tax non-resident companies’ capital gains on commercial properties, I simply fail to understand why it is beyond the wit and wisdom of the UK Treasury to do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) has mentioned the human impact of this situation. The Institute for Fiscal Studies tells us that the Chancellor has black hole in his budget of £20 billion and rising, and that is before we even consider the cost and impact of Brexit. If my estimate is right that closing the loophole would raise £6 billion every year, that money would pay for the entire public health budget helping people with diabetes and heart disease. It would cover restoring nursing bursaries and keeping open our police stations that are currently destined for closure. It would entirely cover the cost of a public sector pay rise in line with inflation—that is according to the IFS’s figures, not mine. When reports tell us that the Government are so short of money at a time when a Budget is coming up, “Is it fair?” and “Can we afford not to do this?” are two important questions for British taxpayers.
I disagree with the Minister, but if he is worried about the drafting of new clause 2, I would support his tabling an amendment to address the use of the term “domicile”. Even if Government Members are worried about the detail, new clause 2 simply looks at the numbers, so it would give us some information. HMRC does not know the amount that we are missing out on as a result of this loophole. The Minister mumbled something about OBR figures, but I have done my own calculations and we are not talking about small change. This money could have a tangible impact on our public finances now.
I am sad that the hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) is not in the Chamber because he chided my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Ruth George) in September about a lack of action on loopholes. This proposal has cross-party support, so I would love Members from both sides of the House to recognise that when we see something that is unfair and costs us billions of pounds, we can act quickly. I am sure that the Minister will be given an opportunity to respond to the debate, so if other countries can do this, if British businesses are suffering unfairness, and if our public services desperately need the cash, will he think again? He says that he keeps the tax situation under review, so if he will pledge to publish a specific review of capital gains tax on commercial properties, I will happily not press the new clause to a Division.
British taxpayers have a right to know how much money is leaking out of our system as a result of the loophole. I would wager that many MPs will be lobbied by their constituents about closures in their community, public service cuts and struggling businesses, and by people who cannot afford their own home due to the overheated property market. Those people will want answers, so I look forward to what the Minister has to say. When we were young, we were all told that money does not grow on trees, but in this instance the roots are overseas, and it is up to the Minister to pull them up.
It is pleasure to appear before you for my second appearance, Madam Deputy Speaker.
To pick up quickly on a point made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), digital exclusion is covered in clause 62, which provides that the digital exclusion condition is met if
“for any reason (including age, disability or location) it is not reasonably practicable for the person or partner to use electronic communications or to keep electronic records.”
That is the test, and the Bill contains powers to allow HMRC’s commissioners to bring in further grounds for exclusion as the measure is rolled out and we see how it operates.
I see that the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) has been on her phone and has already tweeted that I have rejected her advances in this debate, but I am now at the Dispatch Box trying to make my points. She makes her points powerfully and raises an important issue, as I signalled earlier, but she has to accept that new clause 2 would not actually do what she would intend it to do. It confuses non-doms with residents, which is the critical distinction, and would classify companies as being non-domiciled, which they cannot technically be. This is a complicated area about which we had an extended debate in Committee, but I have made it clear that we will continue to consider it. We take on board the general thrust of what the hon. Lady wants to achieve.
I make it clear that I am not making advances to the Minister; I am making arguments to him. Let me ask him one simple question: if this is so complicated—if it seems that the UK Treasury cannot do it—why can most other countries operate without a loophole?
I have already conceded that point. We are looking at this, which rather trumps any questions about why we are not. We are considering it very seriously, and I said earlier that we are looking closely at the issue of non-residents and capital gains tax on commercial property.
It is not a question of publishing information on every area we look into, but I have made it clear that we are seriously considering the issues that have been raised. I have also made it clear that new clause 2 would not do what the hon. Member for Walthamstow describes.
I disagree with the words “at considerable length.” I am grateful to the Minister for trying to explain what I am attempting to do. For the avoidance of doubt, the Opposition are asking that British taxpayers and businesses who are paying this charge know exactly what other companies are getting off paying. He tried to mention something from the Office for Budget Responsibility and he clearly has some figures in his head for how much the loophole is potentially costing the British taxpayer. Will he repeat loudly and clearly what he thinks the number is and where he got his evidence?
As I have said, we are looking at this and we will continue to do so. I have carefully considered the points raised by the hon. Lady both on Report and in Committee, and I think I have a clear understanding, as she does, of what she wishes to achieve.
New clause 2 would not do what the hon. Lady intends. I hope that she will take some comfort from my assurances about our looking at this matter and that she will not press the new clause to a Division. Whether or not she does, I urge the House to reject the Opposition amendments and new clauses.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Digital reporting and record-keeping for VAT
Amendment proposed: 11, page 79, line 19, at end insert—
‘(6A) Regulations under sub-paragraph (5) may not impose mandatory requirements for businesses to generate quarterly updates.”—(Jonathan Reynolds.)
This amendment provides that any system for quarterly updates to be generated must not be mandatory.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
New Clause 2
Taxation of chargeable gains: review of treatment of commercial property held by persons with foreign domicile
“(1) The Taxation of Chargeable Gains Act 1992 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 14 (non-resident groups of companies), insert—
‘Review of treatment of commercial property held by persons with foreign domicile
(1) Within three months of the passing of the Finance (No. 2) Act 2017, the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs shall complete a review about the taxation of chargeable gains held by persons with foreign domicile.
(2) The review shall consider in particular the implications if the treatment of commercial property were to be the same as the treatment of residential property under section 4BB(2).
(3) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall lay a report of the review under this section before the House of Commons within three months of its completion.’”.—(Stella Creasy.)
This new clause requires a review to be undertaken of the treatment of capital gains on commercial property disposed of by UK taxpayers with a foreign domicile.
Brought up, and read the First time.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
Trades and property businesses: calculation of profits
Amendments made: 12, page 121, line 40, leave out
“on the last day of the tax year”
and insert “at the end time”.
Amendment 13, page 121, line 41, leave out “on that day” and insert “at the end time”.
Amendment 14, page 122, leave out line 13 and insert “at the end time,”.
Amendment 15, page 122, line 21, leave out from “if” to end of line 22 and insert “—
(a) it is involved in the property business at the end time, or
(b) although it is not involved in the business at the end time—
(i) it was last involved in the business at an earlier time in the tax year, and
(ii) the person carrying on the business holds the property throughout the period beginning with that earlier time and ending with the end time.”
Amendment 16, page 122, line 32, at end insert—
( ) The “end time” is—
(a) the time immediately before the end of the tax year, or
(b) if in the tax year the person carrying on the business permanently ceases to carry it on, the time immediately before the person permanently ceases to carry on the business.”—(Mel Stride.)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The work of HMRC, though typically not seen as the most glamorous aspect of government, is arguably the most important. If we do not collect tax, we cannot pay for our public services. Every time a new loophole opens up in the tax code, that is another school we cannot afford or another nurse we cannot employ. That is why since 2010 we have significantly improved HMRC’s ability to fight tax avoidance and evasion, and we have raised £160 billion in so doing. That is a far stronger record than in the 13 years during which Labour was in government, but the work is never over.
In this Finance Bill, we are going further than ever to make sure that people pay their fair share. First, we are tackling disguised remuneration schemes by introducing new charges on those artificial loans. Secondly, we are updating the rules on how large companies account for the cost of interest, bringing to an end excessive interest expenses claims. Finally, we are giving HMRC the greater powers it needs to punish avoidance enablers effectively. Taken together, the changes will advance our fight against aggressive tax avoidance.
Alongside our avoidance and evasion work, the Government are committed to making the tax system fairer as a whole. In the Bill, we are bringing to an end permanent non-dom status. There can and should be no denying that non-doms have made a great contribution to our prosperity, but permanent non-dom status can be unfair to UK-domiciled citizens. From now on, with the abolition of non-dom status, those who have lived in the UK for years will pay UK tax in the same way as everybody else does.
The Government recognise that we need to move with the times, and part of that is our work on making tax digital. Every year, the Exchequer loses more than £8 billion in avoidable errors. By making tax digital and easing communications between HMRC, businesses and the self-employed, that loss will be significantly reduced. To help businesses to adjust, we will go forward with a gradual process, as I set out in my written statement. We are confident that the timetable is the right one.
I would like to take a moment to thank Members on both sides of the House for their scrutiny of the Bill on Second Reading and in Committee. The debate has been broad and thorough, and I am particularly grateful to the Labour and Scottish National party Front Benchers for the courtesy and consideration that they have shown me and for their contributions to the debate.
I would like to make one or two final observations. It is, of course, the duty of the Opposition to oppose, to scrutinise and to hold the Government to account, and there has been much good, positive scrutiny from the Opposition—some of it of the highest quality—during proceedings on the Bill. But it is, surely, also the duty of the Opposition to do so responsibly and without taking us too far from the facts or too deep into the politics. Where that occurs—for example, with the branding of all non-doms as tax dodgers, when many are far from wealthy and always pay their tax in the UK—it corrodes this country’s competitiveness and our reputation for fair play. If our clamping down on tax abuse around termination payments—typically for those who receive the largest payments of all—is presented as punishing those who have lost their jobs, it just frightens people. That approach is wrong. The Government stand squarely behind positively supporting our economy and all who work in it, and we always will. I commend the Bill to the House.
The Finance Bill that is before the House is nothing short of a wasted opportunity. It is indicative of a Government who wish to serve the interests of a wealthy few at the expense of the many. That is a fact. Rather than introducing measures to bolster people in their daily lives, such as sensible proposals on investment, fair taxation, raising the UK’s woeful productivity and improving the terrible productivity in many of the regions, the Finance Bill will, if it is enacted, water down workers’ rights, bring added financial burdens to small and medium-sized businesses and exempt offshore trusts from any reform of non-dom status. It is telling that Conservative Members spent more time on the latter than they did on redundancy payments or digital taxation, which affects many of our small businesses.
This Government are enveloped in atrophy. They have done nothing to tackle falling wages, deal with rising levels of personal debt, or tackle poor productivity. They have overseen an economy in which women are paid, on average, 14% less than men, and in which there are large race and disability income gaps. They refuse to invest in the nation’s infrastructure or in the British people. Under Tory rule, Britain has become one of the most unequal countries in Europe. UK Government investment is lower than that of every other major economy. That is a fact.
Inflation is outstripping wage rises, while housing and energy bills are rising once more and our productivity is lower than in the rest of the G7. What a record after seven years. The public sector pay cap has driven down wages, and cuts to in-work benefits are leading to more people than ever using food banks, with 1 million food parcels having been given out. Meanwhile, the Chancellor boasts of high levels of employment, but is in absolute denial about the rising numbers of people in insecure, low-paid work that does not meet their needs and those of their families.
The Government have managed to stitch up Public Bill Committees, despite not having a majority, and they are using arcane rules to deny this House the ability to amend and scrutinise legislation. The younger generation feel betrayed after seven years of Tory austerity. The Government have trebled tuition fees to over £9,000 and abolished maintenance grants, ensuring that the average working-class student leaves university heavily in debt and with little prospect of relieving it. The bottom line is that the Tory Government are in complete and utter decay. The housing market is entrenching and extending inequality between regions, classes and generations. Quite frankly, we cannot support a Bill that does not put any of that right, so we will not support it.
I am delighted to be in the Chamber to talk about the second of the three Finance Bills we will have this year. When the Chancellor stood up and said we would move to having fewer fiscal events a year, I am not sure that this is what he had in mind. I am particularly excited about the third one, which will be coming along soon, and I really hope that it takes account of Brexit because the Government’s Finance Bills have so far failed to do so. I hope we will have a Budget that takes account of the economic shock that will happen as a result of Brexit, puts in place the infrastructure spend that we particularly need and makes it clear that we should stay in the single market.
On our specific concerns about this Finance Bill— I saw you getting a bit edgy, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I will get on to it—I agree with Labour Front Benchers that there have been a number of missed opportunities, and we still have concerns. We have previously mentioned these concerns, but they bear repeating because this place is good like that.
The first issue is VAT on police and fire services. This Finance Bill should have taken the opportunity to remove the VAT paid by Scottish police and fire services. We have made this case time and again and we will continue to do so. I hope that the Chancellor will listen and make changes in the Budget. We would like the VAT that police and fire services have paid to be paid back, and we would like the VAT bill to be got rid of in the future. There is a precedent for doing so—other organisations do not have a VAT bill—and we will carry on making this case very strongly.
My hon. Friend makes the interesting point that this is not simply about making a change for the future, but about repaying the money that has been overpaid for some years. Will she re-emphasise to the UK Government the message that we are not simply looking for such a change, but want paid back that which should never have been paid in the first place?
That is absolutely the case, and I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting this point. It is very important that the Government recognise that Scottish police and fire services never needed to pay this money and that they give us back the overpayments that have been made. Frontline police and fire services are losing out as a result of those organisations having to pay VAT.
I have a couple of other points specifically about the Bill. We have already raised the issues involving termination payments, which Labour Front Benchers did a very good job of highlighting. I am very concerned about the impact on vulnerable people and those who have lost their jobs and about the fact that this £430 million tax take for the Treasury means there is £430 million less for people who are made redundant.
I say again that I am pleased by the moves the Minister has made in relation to changing the implementation and phasing in of digital reporting. I appreciate his making it clear that tax measures put in place by the Treasury and implemented by HMRC are constantly under review. My concern is that even though it is said that these things are constantly under review—that is always said during the passage of Finance Bills—there is very little evidence of any reviews actually happening. Certainly, the majority of the reviews that do take place are not made public, so we cannot see the impact of those tax measures. I have done some digging and asked the Library about these matters, but as I say, very few of the reviews have been made public. It would therefore be good if the things the Minister has said will be under constant review were actually under constant review and if that could be shared with Members across the House and not just, for example, people working within HMRC.
I gather that the changes to elections for removing fields from petroleum revenue tax have widely been welcomed by the industry. In two successive Finance Bills, successive Chancellors have committed to changing the tax regime for decommissioning assets, so that it will be easier to transfer late-life assets to a new clearing in the market, which is very important in maximising the economic recovery of the North sea fields. I say again that Chancellors have promised that twice, yet action has not been forthcoming.
The Chancellor has said that the results of the review will be in the Budget. I do not want him to back away from the commitment that he has made. It is very important for the oil industry, not just in Aberdeen and the north-east of Scotland, but for the hundreds of thousands of people who are employed in the industry across the United Kingdom. It is very important that it does happen to maintain confidence in the industry. We have had a period in which things have not been great in the industry. Confidence is beginning to build again and this change would make a huge difference.
Something that we voted against in Committee and that we disagree with is the change to the dividend nil rate. It is being reduced from £5,000 to £2,000. The SNP has argued against that not only because it is the wrong way to go, but because it is being brought in too quickly. People who have set up a small business or become self-employed in the recent past may not know that this change will be coming in and hitting them very shortly, so they will not have built it into their business plan. I am concerned not that it will reduce entrepreneurship, but that it will affect people who have made finely balanced financial decisions about the future fairly soon. We raised those concerns in Committee. For me, this is the worst proposal in the Finance Bill—the one that I disagree with the most and that I would argue against the most strongly.
I have made the key point that the Bill ignores Brexit. I agree with those on the Labour Front Bench that the Bill ignores productivity. Every day, more statistics come out and more issues are raised about the lack of productivity growth in the UK and the ripples that that causes. The Conservatives keep saying how great it is that we have so many people in employment. The problem is that those people are not getting wage rises that even keep pace with inflation. People are getting poorer, even though they are working hard, sometimes in low-paid jobs, simply because wages are not keeping pace with inflation. That is a big concern for us.
When she came to office, the Prime Minister was very clear that she would try to do things for people who are just about managing. Over the past year or so, it has become clear that life for those people has been getting significantly worse. I would like this year’s Budget to take account of that, to take account of the fact that austerity has failed and to take account of the fact that people are poorer as a result of this Government’s policies and make moves to change that.
Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Bill read the Third time and passed.
INDEPENDENT PARLIAMENTARY STANDARDS AUTHORITY
That Kirsty Blackman, Chris Bryant, Mrs Cheryl Gillan, Valerie Vaz and Mr Charles Walker be appointed to the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority until the end of the present Parliament, in pursuance of paragraph 1(d) of Schedule 3 to the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, as amended. —(Michael Ellis.)